Monday, August 30, 2021


Remember, Lisa Genova

Lisa Genova, neuroscientist and author of Still Alice has written this excellent little book Remember: on the science of memory and the art of forgetting.

It’s very readable and understandable, combining the science for those who are interested, in an engaging format, with easily comprehensible and relatable examples to explain and expand what she is saying.

She starts by explaining the breadth of what our memory does:
"Of all the complex and wondrous miracles that your brain executes, memory is king. You need memory to learn anything. Without it, information and experiences can’t be retained. New people would remain strangers. You wouldn’t be able to remember the previous sentence by the end of this one.… You use your memory from the moment you wake up until the moment you go to sleep, and even then, your memory processes are busy at work.

The significant facts and moments of your life strung together create your life’s narrative and identity. Memory allows you to have a sense of who you are and who you’ve been." (p2)
Yet as she will go on to expand, it’s also incredibly faulty. 

The first section considers How we remember.

With some explanation about how making a memory works (encoding, consolidation, storage, retrieval), Genova notes that the main reason we forget things is that we just don’t pay enough attention to them. So, if we paid attention to where we parked our car, we would remember where it was. She gives tips throughout for assisting with making memories stick.

Then she explores the three types of memory:
  • muscle memory - how to do things, eg ride a bike 
  • semantic memory - information eg. George Washington was the first US president 
  • episodic memory - the history of you remembered by you. Here emotion and surprise are important, “the more emotional the event, the more vividly and elaborately detailed the memory”. In fact, something highly unexpected and exceptionally emotional creates a flashbulb memory (eg. September 11 for many people). 
The second part details Why we forget. 

Here Genova tips things on their head, pointing out how our memory of things are often wrong (which any conversation with someone else who experienced the same event quickly shows us). Every time we recall a memory, we change it a little, and resave it as Version 2.0 in our mind.

She explores the “tip of the tongue” phenomenon, when you know a fact but can’t recall it; and why it is so hard to remember things you are supposed to do the future. Her tip here is the basic thing most people do - don’t expect to remember, rather use your calendar, to do lists, and pill boxes for regular medication.

She notes time in the biggest factor in forgetting, and much of this is good. We have to forget things, we need to leave the emotion or pain of some memories behind, and we need to create space for new information.

Genova compares the normal impact of aging on memory with the devastating impact of Alzheimer’s. In fact much of this book seems to be designed to help people see the difference, and therefore have more confidence in when you need to be concerned and when you don’t. So, for example: if you can’t remember where you put the car keys, that is fine, however if you forget you have a car, or what the keys are used for, that is a problem.

Part 3 considers what to do: whether you improve or impair.

She notes that unrelenting chronic stress is disastrous for memory. However, she emphasises that the two main things that are essential for memory and preventing Alzheimer’ are adequate sleep (7-9 hours per night) and exercise.

This is a very easy to read book, full of interesting facts and reliable examples and anecdotes. In the end, she wants us to know that "your memory is miraculously powerful, highly fallible, and doing its job." Definitely worth reading.

Monday, August 16, 2021

The Whole Life

The Whole Life: 52 Weeks of Biblical Self-Care, Eliza Huie and Esther Smith (New Growth Press, 2021) 

Biblical counsellors Huie and Smith have combined their skills to create this wise and winsome book that considers what biblical self-care looks like, and ways to approach it. As New Growth Press say:  
“They give Christians a framework for biblical self-care that will help them live for Christ by stewarding the spiritual, emotional, relational, and physical aspects of life.”
Huie and Smith start by identifying their audience:
“This book is for Christians who are committed to loving God and loving others; it is for believers who pour their lives out in sacrificial service” (Introduction)
Then they helpfully define what they consider biblical self-care to be:
“the practice of drawing on divinely given resources to steward our whole lives for personal enrichment, the good of others, and the glory of God. We don’t practice self-care because it’s trendy. We practice self-care because it’s a biblical concept. We embrace self-care as a way to steward our souls, minds, bodies, and relationships. This whole-life stewardship is an act of obedience to God’s call to love others as we love ourselves.” (Week 1)
The 52 weeks are divided into 6 sub-sections:
  • Spiritual life 
  • Physical Life 
  • A Purposeful Life 
  • Community Life 
  • Work Life 
  • A Restful Life 
Each week brings focuses on a specific area, allowing the reader to pause, reflect, consider God’s word, and respond in prayer and thoughtfulness. This includes a gospel spotlight, and a chance for application through consideration of questions covering four areas (spiritual, emotional, physical, and relational), and finishes with a a guided journalling suggestion.

As such, taking a week for each topic doesn’t appear to be too slow. I read this book quickly to get the review done, but I plan to return to it and read it much slower at a pace that enables me to dwell in it further. Yet, even a fast read gave me much to consider and be aware of.

Some things I appreciated:
  • Their starting focus on the gospel, our relationship with God, and our spiritual self care 
“The key is that we prioritize time alone with God to spiritually care for ourselves in the midst of caring for others. We cannot properly pour out to others if we are empty.”
  • The encouragement to see the value of counselling in Week 6. They were honest about the fact that there are time where we may need some extra help. 
  • The recognition that not everything can be solved with self-care: 
“Rest and self-care do not always prevent burnout. Sometimes burnout is a form of suffering that comes from the circumstances of living in a broken world. No matter how faithfully we care for ourselves, we may not be able to experience whole-life thriving. It’s difficult to grapple with the reality that some burnout has no earthly solution. If this describes you, I want to encourage you that even this realization has purpose” (Week 51 - Self Care is not a Savior)
I found this to be a wise, balanced, and helpful guide to biblical self-care. It’s quite short, and each week covers only 2-3 pages. However, the real benefit would be taking the time to work through each week in detail and prayerfully. Highly recommended for all Christians who long to serve the Lord sacrificially and faithfully, yet also with wisdom and awareness of our human limitations.

I received an ecopy of this book from New Growth Press in exchange for an honest review. 

Monday, August 9, 2021

To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee

After having read this 30 years ago in high school, I recently returned to it (as my daughter is also reading it at school) and was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed it again.

This is not a detailed review, but an encouragement to go back to the books you read at school that you enjoyed. The ones that were good, challenging, and interesting, and try them again, years later, as an adult.

Told through the eyes of young girl Scout and her older brother Jem, we learn of their town of Mayfield. Early on the children’s focus is on the Radley house where the mysterious Boo Radley lives, never seen by anyone. The second half turns to the trial of Tom Robinson, a black man wrongfully accused of the rape of a poor white woman. Atticus Finch, the children’s father, is Tom’s lawyer and while he is convinced of the need to represent Tom faithfully, he knows the challenges that it presents to their family in this racially charged community. Harper Lee’s assessment of a southern US community in the 1930s rings true, and aspects of her analysis are still very relevant today. One of the most insightful and prescient comments was this:
‘As you grow older, you'll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don't you forget it — whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash.’

Atticus was speaking so quietly his last word crashed on our ears. I looked up, and his face was vehement. ‘There's nothing more sickening to me than a low-grade white man who'll take advantage of a Negro’s ignorance. Don't fool yourselves—it's all adding up and one of these days we're going to pay the bill for it. I hope it's not in you children's time.’ (Chapter 23)
Other books that I read in high school that I have enjoyed returning to are:
Some I still plan to get back to one day include: 1984, Lord of the Flies and Animal Farm. I’m pretty sure these are on our kids’ reading lists in future years, so I may get to them soon!

Monday, August 2, 2021

Consider Your Counsel

Consider Your Counsel, Bob Kellemen (New Growth Press, 2021)

Kellemen has decades of experience in biblical counselling, and is the founder of the Biblical Counseling Coalition. He brings that knowledge and wisdom to bear in this succinct book which addresses what he considers to be the ten main mistakes in biblical counselling. He investigates the growth areas that are needed in counsellors, and seeks to answer the question:
“What patterns, themes, and threads of blind spots do I detect in rookie and veteran biblical counselors—myself included—from which we could learn and grow?”
It’s worth going through the mistakes he lists, including some comments. For some, this will prompt you to read the book, others might just appreciate the brief summary below.

Mistake #1: we elevate data collection above soul correction. This was all about empathy, and being relationally present with a counsellee.

Mistake #2: we share God’s eternal story before listening to people’s earthly story. Rather, we need to be ‘lingering listeners’, avoiding the ‘shallow concordance approach’:
“With one foot, we enter deeply and personally into our counselee’s story, situation, and soul. With the other foot, we pivot into and journey together to Christ’s story of redemptive hope. Our calling is to step into and move between two worlds, between two stories as we help our counselees see how Christ’s redemptive story intersects and invades our counselee’s troubling story.”
Mistake #3 - we talk at counselees rather than exploring scriptures with counselees. Instead, we want to be collaborative.

Mistake #4 - we target sin but diminish suffering. “Instead, let’s be comprehensive, compassionate biblical counselors who address the gravity of grinding affliction.”

Mistake #5 - we fail to follow the Trinity’s model of comforting care. There were helpful insights here into the care, compassion and comfort of the Father, Son and Spirit.

Mistake #6: we view people one dimensionally instead of comprehensively. We need to consider the whole person - physical, relational, spiritual, etc.

Mistake #7- we devalue emotions instead of seeing emotions as God’s idea. Rather, emotions are of great value:
“In summary, the key to our emotional reaction is our belief or perception about the meaning behind the event. Events impact whether our emotions are pleasant or painful. Our longings, beliefs, and goals impact whether our emotional reaction is holy or sinful.”
Mistake #8 - we minimise the complexity of the body-soul interconnection. We are complex body-souls, yet broken by sin and also redeemed, awaiting glorification.

Mistake #9 - we maximise sin while minimising grace. Rather, we want to be grace maximisers, grace magnifiers and grace dispensers.

Mistake #10 - we confuse the sufficiency of scripture with the competency of the Counselor. I must say, this is not something I feel, but do understand the issue. He says, rather that we need ongoing equipping, we are not self-sufficiently competent to counsel, we are incompetent to counsel in our own strength, and we are not independently competent to counsel without support and community.

He goes on to expand this idea, stating we need to be aware of our competency to counsel, and a way to do this is by asking:
  • What’s my level of overall growth and maturity in character, content, competency, and community (4C)? 
  • What my level of 4C equipping related to the particular issues I’m being asked to address? 
Five guidelines are suggested to ensure competent help is provided: 
  • Consistently involve a comprehensive body of Christ team approach 
  • Prayerfully ponder whether the wider resources of the body of Christ may be needed 
  • Prayerfully ponder whether resources outside he church may be needed 
  • Have a candid conversation to mutually determine your next steps, potentially refer to others in the body of Christ, remain part of a team approach 
  • Potentially decide to be the primary caregiver but become further equipped and be supervised 
I appreciated his conclusion that with counselling, “at the the of the day, it’s all about humility”.

This is a very helpful book for those that seek to pastorally care for or counsel believers. It’s a quick and easy read, yet very insightful. In essence, it is not about the content of counselling, but rather on “the process, the journey, the relationship between the counselor and the counselee, and the mindset embedded behind the art of counseling.” I found much of value within.

(Please forgive the switching between counsellor/counselor - I spell the Australian way, unless I am quoting directly)

An ecopy of this book was provided in exchange for an honest review.