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What I Read This Summer...

Or perhaps this post is better titled, what my girls and I read this summer! Last week, when we were camping, my daughter Rebecca spent most of her time in the hammock reading, and Katie and I spent most of our time curled up in chairs of in beds reading.

It was pure bliss.

I was honoured to receive some review copies of some new Christian fiction, so let me tell you today about Nancy Moser's Masquerade.

It's a fun romp, set in the 1880s in New York, contrasting the high society of the Astors with the Italian immigrant communities.

But it doesn't start that way. It starts with high-bred Lottie and her maid Dora back in England, where Lottie's marriage prospects fade in a family scandal. Her parents decide to send her to America to marry a young, rich man set to inherit a huge family business. But during the journey, Lottie decides she can't go through with a life thought up for her by another. She wants freedom.

So she switches places with her maid. Her maid will marry the rich guy, pretending to be Lottie, while Lottie can start anew. But problems come up (as they always do), and Lottie finds herself destitute and alone in the madhouse that is immigrant New York at the end of the nineteenth century.

What did I like about the book? The rich descriptions and the insight into what it must have been to start over in America with nothing. To think that these people built that great country, most labouring for hardly enough to keep them fed, is truly a testament to the American spirit. I haven't read much about that period, but her rich descriptions about how these poor labourers managed to live in crumbling tenements, with horrible outhouses, are vivid and memorable.

The descriptions and the historical accuracy are wonderful. My 13-year-old loved this book, and my 15-year-old thought it was fine. For a hammock.

However, I'm starting to find the predictability of a lot of Christian fiction wanting. It seems like most of these romances are written for the 13-14 year-old crowd. Even my 15-year-old is starting to long for something of more substance. While there is a Christian message here, it's not one that haunts you. Francine Rivers is amazing for writing Christian messages that haunt you, that grab you, that cause you to think and pray and meditate for days and weeks afterwards. So are Brock and Bodie Thoene. But many of these romances aren't like that. They're Christian, sure, but not enough to stir your soul.

And in both cases, our two heroines in this novel fall in love and accept marriage proposals after spending a grand total of about 8 hours with the men in question. I just don't find it realistic.

My conclusions? If you want a hammock read, where you don't have to think, this is great. And it truly is an amazing insight into the New York immigrant community. It's also a wonderful book to recommend to your young teen. I often find that girls aged 12-15 long for stuff to read, but teen fiction is absolutely horrid. Never let a Christian daughter read secular teen fiction! This stuff is safe, it's wholesome, and it gives interesting insights into life that they wouldn't find otherwise.

But personally, while I love good reads I don't have to think much about (they do have their place!), I find I'm wanting more from our Christian fiction, and I hope publishers start delivering.

Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group.


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The Marketing of Bibles
In my adult life I have had three Bibles. I started with one I had when I was 16. It was a NKJV study Bible, and I used it constantly. I underlined verses and coloured verses and wrote in the margins. I could find anything in that Bible.

NKJV Bible


But eventually I just didn't want NKJV anymore, and I switched to an NIV study Bible. I used that briefly, for about three years, before switching to the Bible I have now, an NRSV which comes--this is the best part, and really why I bought it--with huge margins all around so that you can make lots of notes. I believe in marking up my Bible. It's how I know what I've already read, and what I've already thought, and I find my notes useful when I read again.



Most people, I find, do only have a few Bibles because we get attached and it's hard to part with them. That's your whole history of your spiritual journey in one book! How could you start fresh? What do you do? Move all your notes over?

And yet, even though we feel that way about Bibles once we're adults, we don't expect to feel that way when we're children or teens. Bibles are marketed with the assumption that kids will buy a new one at each new stage in their lives. They'll have an easy one with pictures, and then a slightly harder version, and then they'll go through several different teen Bibles before they reach adulthood.

I think this is done more for the marketing of Bibles than it is for the spiritual health of children. I do believe in having young children who can read--let's say 7-9--read from an easier version, like the New Living or the TNIV. But once they're reading novels, I don't see why we don't just let kids graduate to the Bible that they will start using in their spiritual faith. I did at 16, and I could have done so at a younger age. Pick the version that you like to read and memorize from, and buy that for your 10-11 year olds. Or save it until they're 12 and make it into a big birthday present that's meaningful.

I was reminded of the importance of this recently when my daughter showed me a teen Bible that she won for free (as in we didn't pay good money for it). It's a lovely Bible, pink and brown, that's very attractive. But what we didn't bargain for was what came inside of it.


There were quizzes about "My Favourite Date" or "What I Look for in a Boyfriend". I can't tell you them all now because in disgust Rebecca ripped them out. Why is a Bible encouraging young teens to think about dating? She thought it was stupid. (You can read her thoughts here).

But that's the problem with Bibles marketed to a specific segment of the population. Bibles marketed to teens will include dating quizzes. Bibles marketed to children will include little devotionals or anecdotes about school or about what to do when parents fight and other stuff that really doesn't belong in a Bible. They're all done as sidebars, so they're not part of the text or anything, but they're still there, staring at you, as you read through Proverbs. Becca tore out all the dating quizzes, but other stuff is still there.



I have no problem with sidebars that list the miracles of Jesus or the parables of Jesus or anything like that. I find such things helpful study aids. But sidebars in any Bible--whether for children or teens or women--that are more quiz based or devotional based I find strange. It's not that I'm against devotions; it's just that those sidebars usually give a particular slant to the story or passage that you're reading, and I'd rather let God's Holy Spirit talk to me at that time. If I want to read a devotional, I'll get a separate devotional, thank you very much.

I know that companies just need to make money, and hence they're marketing Bibles like this. And I do believe that everyone should have their own Bible so that they can make their own notes in it.

But I would just caution you before you buy your next Bible or you or a family member or friend: what do you want your Bible for? If you just want something to use as a study aid, then you don't need one specifically for women or teens or kids or fishermen or moms or golfers or anything. You just want a Bible with margins for leaving notes and with the occasional map or chart.

And such a Bible is good regardless of gender, age, class, nationality. It speaks to everyone. After all, that's what it was written for. Maybe it's time we got back to that!

P.S. to any Bible companies reading this: Please make more Bibles with big margins for notes. Thank you.


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Date Night
Hi everybody! I'm back from camping! I spent five days in our camper trailer, doing nothing but knitting and reading and eating toasted marshmallows! I knit the cutest little gloves for my daughter Katie from a pattern from a 1950s pattern book. I'll have to post pictures soon! And I finished a cute little tank top.

Anyway, sorry I haven't posted, but here's my column for this week, late as it is! I'll write a bunch of posts tomorrow to make up for it, and schedule them for later this week to unfold while I'm off doing a little more vacationing before myr eal life starts again!

Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario. Here's this week's!

If you tried to rent the movie Date Night recently, chances are you were disappointed. It flies off the shelves because it resonates. A couple’s in a rut. Is packing lunches, loading laundry, heading to work, and cooking dinner enough to make a life great? Or do we have to prove our love by hiring a baby-sitter and heading out on our “date night” once a week?

Many couples choose date night. Hence my oldest daughter was recruited to baby-sit for my friend—let’s call him Sebastien—and his wife, as they left their three little ones to embark on a fun-filled evening. I know it got off to a good start because Sebastien obeyed date night rule number one. He announced on Facebook, an hour into his date night, that he was now turning off his Blackberry so he could spend time with just his wife. There’s dedication for you.

Date night rule number two is that you must eat dinner out, because eating at a restaurant proves love or something. However, restaurant encounters can be tricky. When you’re busy your entire life, it’s hard to just sit there. You have time without the kids. Why not hurry so we can get some stuff actually done? But you don’t, because that’s not romantic. You must sit at Swiss Chalet and look deeply into each others’ eyes and talk about something other than children’s bowel habits. It’s tough.

Nevertheless, Sebastien and his wife apparently lived through the prolonged dinner and headed to the movie theatre, only to discover that Inception, their movie of choice, didn’t start until 10:00. But date night rule number three is that you must always seem delighted about everything, even if you have two hours to kill in a theatre lobby filled with 14-year-olds playing arcade games. Whatever you do, don’t think how much better it would be if you were home, with the kids all tucked in bed, watching a video.

Time crawled by and finally the movie began for our intrepid heroes. But after a week of work and kids and mowing the lawn Sebastien was tired. And thus he broke rule number four: he fell asleep. When he awoke and tried to watch the movie, he couldn’t follow it at all. But did he ask his wife? Did he pay closer attention? No. He decided if he was this far gone, he may as well break rules 5-17 all at once. He whipped out his Blackberry, and updated his status on Facebook to announce to the world that he had fallen asleep. In a movie. On his date night. And then over the next hour he replied to all of his comments.

After it was all over, Sebastien paid my daughter enough to feed a Third World village for a week and drove her home. I have no idea what happened after that, but given that it was already 1:00 in the morning and they were rather tired, I’ll bet they turned in.

Here’s my question: is that really so bad? After all, in Inception, our hero desperately tries to escape a dream world to come back to his real one—a world lacking adventure, but full of family. Since Sebastian never understood what was going on, allow me to enlighten him. At the end of the movie, when our hero is home with his kids, he spins a top. If the top falls over, it’s the real world. If it doesn’t, it’s a dream. But the movie ends without telling us what happened, just so that couples on date nights would have something to debate on the way home.

Personally, I wanted it to be his real life. Adventure can be awfully overrated. Love, even if it’s everyday, predictable, and routine, is priceless. Even if sometimes we sleep through it.

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It's End of Summer...And I'm Busy!
Hi all! I'm busy with end of summer stuff, so I likely won't post again until next week.

But please do visit again, because I have lots of great posts planned! Many I've written in my mind. I just have to get them out on the keyboard!

Have a great end of summer, for those of you who are still relaxing! And if your kids are back at school already, I hope you manage to squeeze some fun out, anyway!

A Baby Is Not Just a Consumer Choice
While stuck in a hotel room in Ottawa earlier this summer, I was completely disappointed once again at the lack of good shows on television. I KNOW there's nothing on, despite the 60 odd channels, but that didn't stop me from hoping that that weekend will be different. That weekend I would find back to back episodes of What Not To Wear, punctuated by Little House on the Prairie reruns and awesome movies. Not going to happen.

But one show I tend to like is Til Debt Do Us Part, hosted by Gail Vaz-Oxlade. Each episode she takes a couple that has failed to learn the vital lesson, "Don't buy stuff you can't afford", and she tells them basic things, like: don't use credit cards. Budget. Live within that budget. And spend cash. It's not rocket science, but so many of us don't do it because the lure of getting stuff fast, with little effort, is everywhere.

I usually agree with what she says except in two areas. One is childcare; and the other is parenting in general. I've seen shows where she has told a mom who is home with three kids that she has to go to work to get out of debt. First, working doesn't always contribute that much to the family income, depending on the cost of childcare, and whether you need a second vehicle, or more clothes. But also, having a mom at home is important. You can't put a price on it, and if a woman feels called to stay home, she shouldn't be told she should work.

Of course, she may have to severely cut back her lifestyle. That would be my first choice before going to work. Live in a 2-bedroom apartment for a while and pay down debt. Get rid of the car and take the bus. I did it for five years and through three pregnancies. It can be done. You don't need that townhouse from day one.

But in that hotel room I saw a show where she actually counseled a couple not to have children at all. They were in debt, but not severe debt, and the woman really wanted to be a mom. She was around 41 or 42, so in vitro was going to be necessary. Perhaps that should have ruled it out anyway, but Gail's reasonings for not having a child had little to do with the woman's age and everything to do with money. Certainly the in vitro would cost $6000, but a child would cost $12,000 over the first year. And they didn't have that in their budget.

Forget about this woman's age for a minute and just listen to that reasoning. If a child costs $12,000, does that mean you shouldn't have a child if you don't have money set aside? Few people that I know had that kind of money when their first child was born. What they did was simply made sure that the child did not cost $12,000. My kids certainly didn't. We bought our crib second hand for $110. We bought clothes at garage sales and willingly took hand me downs. I bought maternity clothes at second hand stores, and sewed others. We used cloth diapers. I made my own baby food. I breast fed. We lived in a small apartment. I don't think the babies cost that much at all. In fact, they may even have saved us money, because once the kids were born I stopped buying clothes for myself for quite a while and we stopped going out to dinner so much.

Children do not have to be expensive; you just have to watch where your money goes. But let's imagine that they are expensive. Let's imagine that you can't scrimp at all, and they're going to be a big amount out of your budget. Should that be a reason to not have children?

I really struggle with this, because I think one of our primary reasons for existing is to have kids. God said to be fruitful and multiply, and if you are in a marriage, I think you should have children. Some will choose not to, and in some cases that choice may be justified (I have family members who have chosen not to, for instance). But kids are so important. They are the fundamental part of our lives. They're transformational. They're not just choices we make.

And perhaps that's the problem, and that's where Catholics have the leg up on Protestants, so to speak. With birth control, parenthood became a choice. It was never thought of that way before. Every couple had children, because you couldn't NOT have children. Today, with the range of birth control available, it is possible to not be a parent. And once it's a choice, it's a choice that can be labelled as either right or wrong, good or bad, depending on other circumstances. You can be told that to become a parent is actually morally irresponsible and wrong.

I know one couple who have chosen not to become biological parents because she carries a fatal disease, and 25% of their children would get it. So they have become foster parents and adopted through the system instead. In their case, I can understand the decision not to have biological children. But I find the fact that parenthood could be labelled "wrong" in other cases just wrong-headed. I can see that if a couple is hugely in debt, taking two years to pay off that debt partially may be a good idea. But if the woman is already approaching the end of her fertile years, to delay is not only a delay. It is closing the door altogether.

People should not get into insurmountable debt in the first place, and if they didn't, then these problems wouldn't arise. We wouldn't have to worry about whether we absolutely needed two people to work, or whether we should have kids at all, because we would figure out how to do it within our income. Debt makes everything so much harder. But to say that an integral part of one's personhood should now be off-limits isn't right, and it saddens me that we've gotten to the point where everything is viewed in terms of dollar signs, rather than in terms of faith that if we do what God wants, He will provide.

I do not think one should act irresponsibly, but children are a blessing. They are never called anything else in Scripture. My main regret in life will always be, I believe, that I did not have more. If you're short of money right now, I know it's tough. You may have to scale back drastically and live on less. It's no fun. But don't give up on being a parent. It is part of who you were created to be, and if we reduce kids to dollar signs, we leave the Creator out of the picture.


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Have Expectations on Motherhood Become Too High?

Newspapers are filled with the "birth dearth", or the lack of fertility of today's women. As a culture, we are choosing not to reproduce. The United States' fertility rate puts it barely at replacement level. Canada's is below replacement level, and Europe's is even worse off than that. We are choosing not to have children.


Columnist Mark Steyn has long argued that fertility and religion are linked. When people lose their faith in something greater than themselves, then it's hard to look towards the future. And without a future-orientation, the present, and having fun, become all that matters. If you don't have a sense that you have a purpose in life, why reproduce?

I agree, but I don't think that's the only reason. I also think our consumer culture has made motherhood almost impossible. Remember this article, when I talked about how the two rules that our society wants us to live by are "I deserve to be happy" and "I'll be happy if I just try a little bit harder." Our culture sells us on dissatisfaction so that we will try harder. It sells us on bigger is better, and boy is that apparent when it comes to motherhood.

Think about how standards have changed. Fifty years ago, most women married knowing how to make seven main meals, one for each week, with company on Sundays. Bridal magazines were filled with this. And if each of the weekday meals were simple casseroles, so much the better, because they were cheaper.

Today we're supposed to cook gourmet meals. We're supposed to cook interesting things for kids' lunches (no more bologna sandwiches). Have you ever actually looked through a woman's magazine or a parenting magazine and imagined, "if I actually did everything that it tells me to do between these pages, how much time would it take?" I'm sure it would take longer than the 24 hours the good Lord chose to give us.

Birthday parties, when I was young, mostly consisted of playing out in the backyard, perhaps with some skipping ropes or bubbles, and then eating hot dogs and a homemade cake. There were no ice cream cakes that cost easily $30. There was no renting out the rec center so everyone could go swimming. Occasionally some kid's parents would take you to a McDonald's birthday, and that was extra special. But that was about it.

Today we go bowling, or swimming, or something big. I know one mom who took ten girls to a glamour photo shoot! I can't even imagine how much that cost, because they all had their hair and makeup done, too.

Then there are all the lessons. We just weren't in that many when we were young, but I know some families wiht multiple kids all in rep hockey (meaning that they travel every weekend for tournaments). Their whole lives are wrapped up in taking their 8-year-olds to out of town hockey games! And then in the summer there's hockey camp, or ballet camp, or karate camp. Add up all that money, and it's a small fortune.

In fact, one recent study found the cost of raising an average kid, from birth to 18, to be a quarter of a million dollars. I wouldn't be surprised if many twenty and thirtysomethings looked at their friends with kids, who were run off their feet taking their kids to all these lessons and activities, shelling out money left, right, and center, and these people said, "I'd rather spend my money on cruises," and forgot about childrearing altogether.

We have overburdened motherhood. We have said you need to pay all this money, you need to be chairperson of the PTA, you need to make gourmet meals, decorate your children's rooms, buy a bigger house, baby-proof everything, and give up all your own goals and dreams for the foreseeable future. We think moms should work harder now than they did fifty years ago, when women had more time to devote to motherhood. I think we've gone insane.

Yes, being a mom is time-consuming, but it doesn't have to be as hectic as everyone makes it out to be. You don't have to have your child in every activity. You don't have to be on every committee. It's okay if you only know how to make a few meals, if your children share a room, if you leave the kids with grandparents occasionally so you can get adult time, if you don't throw a birthday party every year, if you don't take your kids to tons of cultural events, and if you don't put up a swing set in your backyard. It's okay if you still have your own time. It's okay if you still have a marriage. It's okay if you live in a smaller home, and don't have all the kids' stuff, but instead just learn how to make your own fun.

Maybe if we stopped demanding that motherhood be bigger and better, and simply concentrated on it being part of our lives, instead of the whole thing, we'd be a lot better off!

If families just got back to what we did well--hanging out without any plans, taking walks, playing football in the park, playing Scrabble, lying on the bed reading bedtime stories, enforcing bedtime so parents still had parent time, ensuring siblings could play so you still had a life--all of these things would make parenting so much easier. But we throw that aside so that we can live up to some ideal, and that ideal takes a LOT of work that probably isn't necessary.

Here's a show that I did a few years ago on "Are Kids Worth It?" You can see more of my thoughts there:

What do you find is the most overhyped part of motherhood--the part that our society demands we devote so much time and money to, that really isn't that important in the end? Let me know, and let's talk!

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The Greener Grass Syndrome
Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario. Here's this week's!

In West Knoxville, Tennessee, Lee Miller has the best lawn in the neighbourhood. The uniformly green grass is always 1 ¾ inch high. People stop their cars to touch it. Dandelions don’t invade it. Grubs don’t munch the roots. And Lee never, ever has to turn on the sprinkler. But though the grass may be greener on Lee’s side of the fence, the grass also isn’t real.

I have killed so much grass myself that I have dreamt of a fake lawn. But I’d miss the robins digging for worms, and the bunnies that gorge on the greens that grow under our bird feeder. A fake lawn may look nice, but there’s no life there.
That doesn’t stop the envy, though. When we’re in the midst of a season where all we see is the grubs, it’s easy to turn and look at Lee’s lawn and think it’s superior. It’s beautiful. It’s easy. And so we’re tempted to abandon our own lawn for another.

Big mistake. I have known so many who have walked out on marriages and families to take on all the problems of another family. I’ve known men who have abandoned families they have cherished and cared for for twenty years, only to start all over again with another woman with toddlers. They often realize, after they have wrecked their relationships with their older children, that just because you start fresh doesn’t mean it’s easier. That first family doesn’t go away; you still have to work out custody issues and vacations and university plans and even eventually weddings. But you’ve burned bridges and caused ill will in the meantime.

Why are we so easily enticed to stray over that fence? I think we’re naturally lazy. When we’re in the midst of a difficult period in our relationships, and we feel like the other person doesn’t value or understand us, to work through that seems exhausting. And then we meet someone we can talk to, who’s new and therefore exciting, and we convince ourselves that life would be easier if we could jump that fence.

That’s a very short-term view. We forget the value of the history that we have built up. I don’t think I could ever leave my husband because nobody else has walked my life with me. He has been a witness to every major event in my adult life. If we were to split, I couldn’t talk about them in the same way anymore, because others wouldn’t understand. They weren’t there when Rebecca was born. They weren’t there when we laid my son to rest in the cemetery. They weren’t there when my grandfather died, or when my first book was published, or when I learned to drive. Those shared memories are worth something.

Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher, in their study A Case for Marriage, found that couples from unhappy marriages who split up were far less likely to be happy five years later than couples who stayed together. Even those who found new partners were less likely to be happy than those who worked on their own marriages. That’s probably why second and third marriages fail at rates far greater than first marriages.

Life is messy, but that’s only because it’s real. If someone else’s grass is greener, it’s either because it’s fake, or because you’ve never been up close and personal with it. Get up close, and you’ll see that it has just as many flaws as yours does. Remember, the difference between a beautiful garden and a wilderness is the time that we spend caring for it. So if your lawn is straggly, maybe instead of leaving it, you just need to care for it a little bit more. And while you’re at it, fix the fence.

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Skirting the Line Between Health and Vanity

Photo by Tuchodi

As I reported earlier this summer, my husband and I are in a race to see who will lose 10-15 pounds first. I'm aiming for 10, he's aiming for 15. I like to tell myself that it's not about vanity. My mother, after all, started having real issues with her weight in her forties, and I don't want to get like that. Keith has genes which easily lead him to being a little heftier. So we want to stay healthy.

But I also do want to look nice. I like looking pretty. And just because I'm married--or perhaps because I'm married--I try a little harder. I think looking nice for your man is a good thing, because it keeps the marriage fresh, and I want him to enjoy coming home to me.

I do, however, feel the tension between vanity and health, and nowhere more so than when I think of the message I'm sending my girls and their friends. I certainly don't want them to think that my self-esteem is primarily in how I look, or that they need to be super skinny to be worth something. Enough negative messages about beauty pervade our culture that I don't want to add to them.

Yet I know that my girls, and their friends, do need to understand some basic things about health.

They are growing up in a culture that eats for pleasure far more than other cultures did, because we have so much food. I eat when I'm bored sometimes, too. Don't you? You have nothing to do, so the first thought that comes into your head is, "what's in the fridge"? Many of our children naturally think of food, too, when they're bored, and hence so much of their social life exists around food.

A dear woman I know who heads up a ministry aimed at junior high kids recently told me about a day she spent with several girls, where all the girls did was want to eat. They ate a huge breakfast--far larger than this woman ate herself--and then an hour later asked when the next snack was. Everytime food was brought out they grabbed handfulls of it and stuffed it in, and consumed just as large a lunch. She figures they ate as many calories by 11 that morning as she normally eats all day. How do you respond?

Obviously you could stop providing so much food for kids like this at events, because it really isn't necessary. But that doesn't stop the problem that many children don't seem to have a switch that says, "I'm full now". They love the feeling of stuffing themselves, and the idea that "I am not particularly hungry right now" has never stopped them from eating before, so why should it now?

So here's my question: how do you address that in, let's say, a church setting? How do you talk to kids about health without it becoming an issue about losing weight or being a particular body size? We can talk all we want about how the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, and how we should treat it well, but that doesn't even work for most adult women who struggle with our weight. Even right now, as I type this, I am resisting the temptation of going and getting a bowl of ice cream, because I know I'm not hungry. I just had a huge dinner. But I would love some ice cream anyway.

Instead I'm going to pour myself a glass of water and drink all of it before I eat another thing. Usually when I drink, I stop thinking about food. Yet many of our children have it even worse than I do, because they've grown up eating constantly. They're not necessarily taught at home to resist eating if they're already full. They're given junk at home quite often. How do you teach them otherwise?

When our oldest was around 7, a little friend down the block used to hang out at our house constantly. I still remember the day she ate her first stick of celery. She didn't know what it was. The only vegetables she had ever eaten were carrots and cucumber. And she had never eaten any cooked (unless you count french fries).

We served her stew one night and she didn't know what to do with it, though once she tried it she liked it.

So imagine a youth group where kids don't know what celery is, where the greatest social pastime is eating, and where nobody has ever learned to say "no" to inner cravings. What do you do? How do you teach kids the proper way to think of food? I'd love to know your thoughts!


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Wifey Wednesday: What Your Bedroom Says About You

It's Wednesday, the day when we talk marriage! I introduce a topic, and then you follow up either by commenting or by writing your own post and then linking up!

The end of the summer is just around the corner (I feel like weeping as I type that!), but many of us still have a few weeks before the new year hits us in full force. Which means that we can probably grab a few hours--or more--to do something vitally important.

And may I suggest something?

Take a good, hard look at your bedroom.

In all the busy-ness of life, we often use the bedroom as our fallback for "stuff". We don't know where else to put it, so it ends up in the bedroom! And that bed is so deliciously big, with a nice big surface at a good height, so why not sort laundry on it? Even if you'll never actually get everything folded today, because the kids will call, and you'll forget all about it until the evening, when you have to throw the laundry onto the floor to climb in!

I have known friends who have neat houses, but their bedrooms are atrocious. You can barely move in there, because they have so much junk stored that they can't part with. Or they focus on keeping the kids clean, that they completely ignore their own bedroom.

I think that's a mistake. Your bedroom should actually be the most important room in the house--more important than the kitchen, the living room, or the family room. The family functions well when the couple functions well. If you are hoping to entertain, that will always work better if you and your husband are on the same page. You will be a better parent if you and your husband feel intimate. And you won't feel intimate in a bedroom that's a mess.

So here are my quick thoughts on how to make your bedroom an oasis for your marriage:

1. Don't Use Your Bedroom as a Storage Room.

Keep things in other places of the house, or you'll start getting into the habit of throwing stuff in your bedroom so you can "deal with it later". Later never comes. If you don't have enough storage space, be brutal about giving things away/throwing stuff out. But don't let your bedroom become so messy that it's no fun to be in there!

2. Keep Kids out of the Bedroom

My children always piled into bed early in the morning, to wake us up, but they didn't sleep with us. When your children are young, help them to learn to sleep in their own beds. You and your husband need that couple time.

3. Choose decorations that work for both of you.

Most men don't care much about decorations, but they'd still probably feel more comfortable with solid colours than pink florals. Even if you got the comforter free from an aunt, it's probably best to chuck it so that the bedroom reflects the two of you together.

4. Don't Do Work in Your Bedrooom

This one's tough for me, because I like having the laptop in bed with me. But in general, try to keep household chores and work chores out of the bedroom, so that the bedroom remains a place of rest. Don't fold laundry in there. Don't pay your bills in there. If you start to do work in your bedroom, then work STUFF will start to accumulate in your bedroom. Do you really want that? Keep your bedroom for sleep, talking, and fun!

5. Think Carefully About a TV in your Bedroom

Many couples have a TV in their bedrooms. They love lying together at night and watching the tube. But it's not always a good idea. First, one person could drift off that way, and then you've never had a chance to talk. Second, it crowds out other stuff that could happen in the bedroom.

When my husband and I watch a movie at night, we do it in the family room. Then we have to get up, turn off the lights, and retire to the bedroom. We're both awake. We're both climbing into bed at the same time. And then we can talk, snuggle, or whatever!

But if there were a TV in there, I might decide to keep watching it after he fell asleep. And we might not talk much at all! So keep the TV out of your room, if possible.

6. Fill your Room with Romance

Make sure there are candles in your room (along with something to light them with). Keep a Bible handy--I've written before how there is little that binds you together more (and gets you in the mood) like reading a Psalm before bed. You feel close because you're spiritually close, and then you want to express it in other ways. Trust me.

Keep a little book you like reading aloud to each other. Or a notebook where you can talk about important things and jot things down. In other words, keep things by your bed that will help with communication, not hinder it (like a TV)! And then use them!

Show your husband that you value the time that you have together at night by putting some effort into keeping the bedroom nice. It really is just yours and his. You're not trying to impress anybody. But if you keep it inviting for him, then you show him that you actually want to be with him. That the room is important to you--as is what you do in that room!

Now, what advice do you have for us today? Do you struggle with keeping your bedrooom an oasis in a busy home? What do you do? What do you feel like you should be doing more of? Or do you have something else to tell us? Write your own Wifey Wednesday post that links back to here, and then leave the link of THAT POST in the Mcklinky below. Thanks!


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Shopping Should Not be a Status Symbol

We live in a consumer culture, which is based on two principles:

"I deserve to be happy."

"I could be happy if I just tried a little bit harder."
That's what our culture sells us. We deserve to be happy, and the route to happiness is all around us. It's at the makeup counter, where blissful, beautiful women shine. It's at the travel agency, where frolicking couples head to the Bahamas. It's at the clothing stores, where ecstatic models drape themselves in the latest fashions. Happiness is easily attained, if only you buy the right stuff.

Then you buy it, and you're not happy.

Because you're still missing something. And the whole cycle starts again.

I've never really been into this cycle. I just couldn't be bothered to try to get the brand names, or the latest fad, or the best shoes. My biggest thrills tend to come from Thrift Store excursions, when I pick up a bunch of clothing that's perfect for my kids and light on my pocketbook. It makes me feel like I have conquered the world!

But just because I'm not into brand names does not mean that I haven't been sucked in by our culture as well. Think of how much you define your happiness by something you can pay for. When you're out with your children grocery shopping, and they've been particularly good, what do you say?

"Let's go get a treat!"
When you're at home and you're just really grumpy, what do you do to give yourself a pick-me-up?

"Let's go shopping!"
Even if it's just to the corner store to get a chocolate bar, or to the thrift store to get a new outfit.

Photo by Wear It

And what is it that we do for fun? It's all things that cost money, like computers, and televisions, and boats, and restaurants. We have lost the art of just being, of just living, of just breathing in the glory of the day and the wonder of the people and relationships all around us. We have lost the beauty of revelling in God alone.

This consumer culture is very difficult to break out of, because we are so immersed in it. The Israelites, back in the Old Testament, used to get in trouble rather routinely because they started worshiping idols again. Did you ever read that in your Bible and think, "Boy, they must have had really low IQs back then to go to an idol when they had the God who parted the Red Sea with them the whole time!"

It's easy to judge a culture that lived 3,000 years ago, but I think we do the same thing. We have a God who has given us everything, but where do we turn for happiness? We usually turn to something that the wallet can buy, because we have bought into society's lies that "we deserve happiness", and the route to happiness is to try a little harder--to buy some more, to earn some more, to spend some more. It's always just a little more.

When you are attempting to survive on one income, feeling a little hard done by is a natural reaction, I think, because you aren't going to have those things that people now think of indispensable. You may not have your own cell phone, let alone an iPhone. You may not have your own personal laptop. You may not even have bedrooms for all your children, or a separate freezer, or a new van. You may not have all these things which every family "needs". But why did we ever decide that families needed these things?

What families need, I think, is time together. They need time to play and laugh and have fun and learn of each other. They need time to learn character lessons, to pray together, to explore God's creation, and little of that costs money. The best fun we can have is just being together and laughing together, and that is a joy few in this world know. For most families, togetherness is sitting at the same table while each person is on their individual iPhones. That's not right.

We live in a world that wants to keep us perpetually dissatisfied, because then it can sell us on the idea that to be satisfied all we have to do is buy one more thing. That's how our economy works. Do you think we all actually need all this junk? Of course not! But they're trying to sell it to us anyway. And much of the current crisis that we're in economically is because people thought they deserved everything, when they contributed very little. We are living beyond our means, and now the markets are catching up. We aren't saving; we're putting things on credit. We can't survive for long when it's all fictional. A new realignment will soon come, when people will be forced to live within their means again, and I think that's a good thing.

It means that over the next year or two, if we're lucky, frugality and responsibility may come back in style. It won't be about conspicuous consumption as much as it will be about keeping one's head above the water. And perhaps, as families realign their goals, they'll realize that all this stuff didn't keep us happy anyway. The more stuff you have, the harder you have to work to pay for it and to keep it up. How much better to work less and to still have time to read to your kids!

So if you're feeling dissatisfied, shake it off. It is not your fault. To feel dissatisfied is not necessarily a sin; I think it is more of a temptation in this world that is trying to sell us on constant dissatisfaction. To nurture dissatisfaction, though, is going down the wrong path. If you're sad about all the stuff you don't have, think about what you do. Think about how you don't have to be a slave to all of these things that you wish you could buy; instead you can be free to find more creative fun. Families usually do better that way, anyway.

A constant danger that was warned about in the Old Testament was that people would get fat and forget the Lord. They would have all they needed, and so wouldn't need Him. We have lived in a very fat age, and we have found that it does not satisfy. Take that realization as a good thing, and not as a disaster. Yes, this world is worrisome right now. Yes, the future is uncertain. But that just means that we're going to get back to what is important, and we'll be thrown back towards God. And maybe, just maybe, the next time we think of the word "treat", we won't pull out our wallets. We'll look down at a giggling todler and climb down on the floor with him and play airplane. Wouldn't that be fun?


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Common Sense Vs. Bureaucracy
Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario. Here's this week's!

Last November, at Kingston General Hospital, Brigitte Robinson underwent an emergency Caesarean section to deliver her healthy baby girl. Afterwards, her husband, John Kennedy, remained at the hospital to help her care for their daughter.

All would have been well had John and Brigitte not been in the same ward room as a Muslim couple who insisted that John leave whenever the Muslim mom was breastfeeding (even though her bed was surrounded by a curtain), and banished him from using the sink in the shared bathroom.

Those working on the floor decided that the easiest way to deal with this situation was to move the John and Brigitte and a third couple into private rooms, away from the Muslim family. They went along with the plan, until the bill for $750 arrived. Kennedy has steadfastly refused to pay. As he explained to the Whig Standard last week, he wasn’t the one who minded being in a ward room; it was another couple who minded his presence.

Unfortunately, the hospital can’t discuss its side of the story for privacy reasons, so we only have Kennedy’s account to consider. But when the story hit the local paper, it quickly spread to blogs and talk radio, to almost universal condemnation for the hospital. It’s not hard to imagine why. As anyone who has been on a maternity floor recently will know, frequently the mom needs the dad to help with the newborn, because the nurses aren’t going to do it around the clock. On a maternity floor, a dad is not optional. He’s essential. If you don’t want another man near your wife or newborn, then, you should request a private room, rather than insist that everyone else accommodate you. End of story.

Like many of our public institutions, though, Kingston General Hospital seems to have lost basic common sense. I'm not surprised. “Common sense” implies that we have something in common. In an increasingly multicultural society, though, that's not necessarily true. Thus, new rules are constantly being created to govern social behavior which we, at one point, would never have thought twice about. And in these policy sessions, political correctness rules.

But that’s not the only reason why hospital administrators may be prone to making dumb decisions. Their main focus has to be to meet the budget. Thus, day after day they go to meetings and talk about “best practices”, trying to create rules, and procedures, and guidelines for everything under the sun so that the bottom line can be met efficiently and uniformly. They're divorced from the actual delivery of care. Their concern is creating conformity through rules, not recognizing when exceptions should be made.

Here's another story: in Oregon last week, 7-year-old pigtailed Julie Murphy set up a lemonade stand. Unfortunately for her, the Health Department got wind of it and told Julie that she needed to pay $120 for a license to handle food. What kind of an imbecile tries to stop a 7-year-old girl from selling lemonade to her neighbours? One that spends most of his or her life in meetings! The public outcry was so great that the Health worker was ordered to go back and apologize to the little girl. I hope he had to buy a glass of lemonade, too.

What do these cases teach us? Bureaucracy, by its very nature, will tend to overreach and enforce rules your average person knows is ridiculous. So when bureaucrats, in their pursuit of uniformity, do something completely inane, don't stand for it. Be loud, like John Kennedy. Get publicity, like little Julie. Let's restore our public institutions to reflect what this country is supposed to be: compassion mixed with common sense. Wouldn’t that be a nice change?

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Teenagers Can Be Very Insightful!

I have two daughters who are both very spiritually mature--far more mature than I was at their age! They are both great mentors to their friends, and in general they're a joy, although my 13-year-old is rather grumpy right now because I signed her up to take her grade 6 piano exam on Monday, smack in the middle of the summer!

My 15-year-old, though, has recently launched a blog where she posts her thoughts, and even though she doesn't know it, I read it. And I think it's great. Here's an excerpt:

For a while now I’ve been struggling a lot with feeling worthless, like I’m not worthy of people wanting to be my friend, or that even if I do find some amazing person they won’t stick around once they realize who I really am. I’m pretty sure all of us think this to some extent, but I’ve been actually crying myself to sleep over it for the last couple of months. Pathetic, I know.

But anyway, I was looking through a whole bunch of stuff that I had shoved into the back of my closet from when I was ages 2-about 11. Reading through it was just hilarious… my messed up attempts at writing stories as a 9 year old, pictures of Lord of the Rings characters from when I was 10..

But I found this one poem I had written when I was 8. It was the typical kind of little kid poem, but then the last verse stated that I loved Jesus best of all, because he loves me and stays with me no matter what happens, and no matter what I do.

So I started thinking, if I knew that Jesus was by my side and telling me that he loves me when I was 8, why don’t I get it now, at 15? So often I figure that I just asked Jesus into my heart and then he was content to just watch from heaven as I stumble my way through life, and that whenever I’m “good enough” he’ll come and be with me again.

But that’s not it at all. God is right with me no matter where I go, and no matter what I do–he’ll be there holding my hand. No matter how many people leave my life, no matter how many times I feel I’m nothing, he’ll be right there beside me, sharing my pain. I don’t know why, but I had forgotten that he was always there beside me, that I don’t have to prove myself for him to love me.

Isn't that beautiful? She also made some insightful comments about "teen girls' Bibles" that have quizzes on "your perfect date". (She was not impressed). I'd like to get her some more readers, so if you're interested, why not stop over at Throwing Pebbles and read some of her writings and encourage her? Or if you have teenage girls yourself who might benefit from reading, send them the link! Link it in your Facebook account, or if you're involved in your youth group, maybe put a link to it up on your youth group's Facebook page.

I think what she's writing is really good, and I'd love for it to get more exposure. So if you could help, that would be great!

Do you know of other teens who write great blogs? Let me know in the comments, and then maybe I can send Becca there to learn more tools of the trade!

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Wifey Wednesday: Continuing Courtship

It's Wednesday, the day when we talk marriage! I introduce a topic, and then you follow up either by commenting or by writing your own post and then linking up!

Ketchup and Mustard

Photo by BigBirdz

Yesterday, I wrote a post on how to encourage our kids towards courtship rather than mindless dating.

Today I want to talk to us as married couples: do we still "court"? Do you still try to woo each other?

One thing that my husband and I still do is play. We joke with each other, we laugh with each other. He even chases me sometimes! Play is good for the soul. My girls have grown up hearing us laughing and teasing and pretending to pout so the other person has to make it up to us, and all kinds of silly things. It's fun! It's terrible being serious all the time.

We also try to have date nights occasionally. We don't do it once a week, because that's just not practical with our schedule. But we do take walks together almost every night, and we take ballroom dancing lessons during the winter on Thursday nights (which then becomes our date night, even if it's not year round).

I've always believed that the more fun you can have with your spouse, the less stress you will feel at other points in your life. Your spouse is a great stress-reliever, if you keep the relationship strong, because you know you're not going through life alone.

Finding that time alone, though, can be a challenge for two reasons. First, the kids are underfoot, and there's so much that needs to be done with the kids, and second, money is usually an issue. How can you date when you don't have money for dinner and a movie, let alone a baby-sitter?

Solution? Don't go to dinner and a movie and hire a baby-sitter. Do something else. Here are some ideas for low-cost dating from the blog Many Little Blessings:

  • Candle lit dinner after the kids are in bed (or while they watch a movie) — our favorite place to do this is our screened in porch

  • Board games (we love Scrabble, but play other games as well) or Puzzles

  • One of us sitting at the counter while the other one is cooking or baking (yeah — this doesn’t sound like a date, maybe, but we really enjoy it and it is some great time to talk)

  • Play video games against each other after the kids are in bed (although this can bring the kids out of their beds to see what in the heck is going on)

  • IM each other while you’re both in the house with, um, perhaps more risque messages

  • Teach each other about a favorite craft, hobby, or interest

  • Give each other massages

  • Reading aloud to each other (although we usually do this as a family activity nowadays)

She has more here!

I love the candle-lit dinner after kids go to bed. One night, make them their chicken fingers or something easy, and make you something that you both really enjoy, that the kids always go "EEwwwww" at. Cook just for you. And then enjoy it together!

Picnics work well.

I also love anything active. One of my favourite memories of when we were dating was getting into a water fight. I'm not a sports person, but the times that we laugh the most are when we're doing something physical: I'm trying to steal something from him, or I'm trying to catch him. He's just so much stronger and faster, the whole thing becomes such a farce I end up winning because he's laughing so hard.

So play soccer, or frisbee, or catch, or anything!

I love bike rides, too. And if you need a baby-sitter, try trading with a friend. Or catching some moments when they're in bed. Another thing to do is to limit DVD use with your kids. Don't let them watch movies very often. But then every now and then, pull them out so that Mommy & Daddy can have some time together. That way the DVDs are special, and they're more likely to stay engrossed, but they also learn that sometimes you need privacy!

What do you do for a cheap date? What do you do that makes you and your husband laugh together? Let's get some ideas going in the comments, and then I'll publish a new post with a long list of date ideas, using everything you gals have said!

Now, what advice do you have for us today? Do you have great ideas on how to "Date While Married"? Or do you have something else to tell us? Write your own Wifey Wednesday post that links back to here, and then leave the link of THAT POST in the Mcklinky below. Thanks!


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    Preparing Children for Courtship

    We are lost in a romantic wasteland. People have no idea how to get married anymore.

    Michael Gerson wrote a great column a while back about the devastating effects of the loss of a courtship narrative--the script that people used to live by: you meet someone, you ask her out, you date for a while, you propose, you marry. The purpose of dating was to lead to marriage.

    Now most young people consider marriage as something for "older people", not something for those in their twenties. So we have a whole generation stuck between childhood and adulthood, who have reached sexual maturity but not relational maturity. And they don't know how to make that jump.

    Gerson writes:

    In the absence of a courtship narrative, young people have evolved a casual, ad hoc version of their own: cohabitation. From 1960 to 2007, the number of Americans cohabiting increased fourteenfold. For some, it is a test-drive for marriage. For others, it is an easier, low-commitment alternative to marriage. About 40 percent of children will now spend some of their childhood in a cohabiting union.

    How is this working out? Not very well. Relationships defined by lower levels of commitment are, not unexpectedly, more likely to break up. Three-quarters of children born to cohabiting parents will see their parents split up by the time they turn 16, compared with about one-third of children born to married parents. So apart from the counsel of cold showers or "let the good times roll," is there any good advice for those traversing the relational wilderness? Religion and morality contribute ideals of character. But social science also indicates some rough, practical wisdom.

    He also says that people who marry after age 27 tend to have less happy marriages, likely because people are more set in their ways, or they have more baggage.

    I find most dating and cohabitation that they say is a "practice for marriage" is really more like a "practice for divorce". Think about it: what's important about marriage is not the fact that two people live together; it is that two people are committed to each other. What categorizes divorce is two people who were once in love now deciding to separate. In other words, divorce is based on a lack of commitment; an assumption that a relationship that was once close can deteriorate to the point that it is better to separate.

    Separation is not easy. I remember plenty of heartbreaks when I was 18 and 19, and they hurt. I don't think we're supposed to feel that way. And yet every time we break up with someone whom we once loved, we teach our hearts how to recover. And studies show that we learn to protect our hearts more, so that we're not vulnerable the next time. We aren't practicing for commitment at all when we live together and then break up; we're learning how to guard our hearts and how to live out short relationships. That's not healthy.

    So what should we teach our kids? I think we have to return to the old courtship narrative, as hard as it is for teens in this texting world. One 14-year-old boy very close to my family is currently having girl troubles. He took a girl to the grade 8 graduation dance, and started "dating" her after that, which as near as I can figure consisted of texting "Wassup?" to her several times a day, and occasionally hanging out. They didn't "date", as we used to, by going to a movie or out for a walk or something.

    That relationship is now over, so he's looking for another girl. But what is he going to do with that girl? They don't actually know how to have a relationship that involves talking and getting to know each other, because it seems to me that many teens aren't interested in the "person" as much as they are in the "relationship". This brings us to our first point:

    1. Teach Children, from a Young Age, that Dating is for Marriage

    There is no point in this kind of "pseudo-relationship" that my 14-year-old friend has, and as a parent, I have told my children from the get-go that the only point of dating is marriage, and so you shouldn't date until you're ready to marry. Then, when you do start dating, you have to get to know the person to see whether you want to be with them. If you don't, you end it. You don't date just "because they're fun to be with" even though you could never marry them. That's not what dating is for.

    What if no one else feels that way, and they're all by themselves in a social wasteland? So what? Honestly, who needs to date at 14 or 15? And if their friends don't get that, they need some new friends. Find a youth group where at least some healthy spiritual kids hang out, where they can find peers. Teach a youth group if you need to and talk about proper dating! And raise your kids to believe in courtship again.

    I have seen some encouraging cultural signs recently. I love the line that Taylor Swift put into her song "Love Story", where Romeo tells Juliet "I talked to your dad, go pick out a white dress..." He acknowledges that he asked her dad for permission. And I've seen that in a couple of other places, too.

    We need to teach our kids that the only viable and justifiable reason to date is to marry. Cohabitation is not an option. And it's tough if your family, like mine, have people who do cohabitate. What we tell our girls is that you can't expect non-Christians to act as Christians, and so we must never, ever judge them. We just have to love them on their terms. And I do love them! I pray that they will find real commitment and real joy together (and I have seen that happen in one couple who did marry). It is, nevertheless, a fine line because you want to tell kids that it's wrong without encouraging them to think badly of relatives. But don't shy away from it! Kids need to know, from a young age, what their futures should look like. Be very clear on this courtship narrative.

    2. Teach Children to Communicate

    Believing in marriage, though, isn't enough. They also have to learn how to communicate. So many teens and even young adults date almost exclusively through cell phones and Facebook now, and you can't base a marriage on that.

    That's why it's so important to encourage your children, from as young an age as possible, to have face-to-face friends. As they become teens, keep encouraging that face-to-face contact. Have friends over for sleepovers. Make your house the hangout. Invite friends home after church. Have kids over after school. And while the kids are at your house, try to enforce some technology-free time. Don't let them just watch movies or play video games. Actually encourage them to do something that involves talking, whether it's a craft together or hanging out in their bedroom (for same sex friends) or whatever.

    Courtship is supposed to be about really getting to know someone, but in our world we have lost the art of getting to know people as technology as replaced our social relationships. Teach your kids how to talk to each other.

    3. Teach Children to Discern

    Finally, ask your children what they think of their friends. Too often we hang out with people uncritically because, like my 14-year-old friend, the point is to have a relationship; the point is not the person. And so teens tend to make friends for the sake of having friends, or date for the sake of having a "boyfriend".

    Encourage your children to think about who their really good friends are. Who do they feel able to share their hearts with? Who do they think is more shallow? Who is fun to be with, but you can't really trust him or her with your deepest thoughts? Who really does love God, and who is just putting on a show?

    You don't want to gossip, obviously, but I think having conversations with your children about what makes a good friend, and who best exemplifies that, helps your child to start thinking about such questions like, "am I actually enjoying being with this person?" So often we spend time with people because we're grateful someone likes us, but we don't take the time to ask if we like them.

    If you want your child to choose a good spouse, they have to learn to discern about good and bad relationships. So teach them this, and it's more likely you'll appreciate their ultimate choice!

    What about you? Do you have any advice on how to encourage your kids in courtship? Let's talk about it!


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    Getting Smart About Keeping Safe
    Every now and then I really tick feminists off, which is funny, because most people who know me think of me as rather a feminist, at least in Christian circles. I like to think of myself more as common sense, personally.

    But whether it's my opinions on daycare or that women should at least try to look pretty for their husbands, I tick off lots of people who think I'm trying to keep us in our place. And that's not my point at all.

    My goal is to help women live the abundant lives they were created to live, and that means embracing relationship, finding their purpose in Christ, and pressing forward to making this world a better place.

    We don't do that by being stupid and making excuses. And let me tell you about the things I say that are often taken as the most offensive. Usually it concerns the idea of modesty: that women don't understand a man's sex drive, which is so closely linked to sight. And when young teens dress in a revealing manner, they are inviting guys to think of them in that way. Those guys aren't thinking: wow, she's pretty! They're thinking, "Wow, she has nice ---- ". Get it?

    It was this column that set it off. Since writing it, I've received a ton of emails accusing me of saying that if these girls get raped, it's their fault. Of course I don't believe that! The blame lies solely at the feet of the guy who raped her, and he should be punished to the full extent of the law.

    But does it follow that just because the guy SHOULD be punished, and just because it IS the guy's fault, that girls should therefore dress however they want? I don't think so, because it's just plain stupid. And I don't abide by stupidity.

    When I was in university twenty years ago, the administration pushed a "No means no" campaign. The emphasis was on insisting that males obtain proper consent before having sex. If the girl was drunk, she couldn't give consent, and it would be considered rape. Everywhere you went on campus were "no means no" posters, with pictures of alcohol.

    I always wondered, "why would a girl go to a house where there are a bunch of buys and drink that much in the first place?" Does that mean that it's her fault if she gets drunk? Again, no. But just because it's not your fault doesn't mean it's not dangerous. God won't hold you responsible for what someone else does to you, but that's no reason not to raise our girls to be smart.

    We're spending so much time trying to ram it into boys' heads that if they force sex on a girl who is drunk, or high, or hasn't explicitly said yes that it's rape, but we've stopped telling girls that you shouldn't go to a boy's apartment alone, you shouldn't consume alcohol in a guy's place, you shouldn't walk home in the dark alone, you shouldn't accept a ride from someone you barely know (and often even from someone you do know).

    Most sexual assaults, after all, happen between two people who already know each other. They're not random strangers grabbing you from behind. And what that says to me is that many sexual assaults could be avoided if the girls acted smarter. Please understand: I'm not saying that if a girl is assaulted it's her fault. But I am saying that perhaps we should teach our daughters some basic common sense things that our mothers knew, but that our generation stopped being taught because it violated feminist principles.

    Here, then, is the list of what I am teaching my daughters:

    1. Never go near a guy in a parked car. If he wants directions, stand far back and talk loudly. If you think you're being followed by a car, turn around and walk in the opposite direction (ie. towards the car). Don't go near a woman asking directions in a parked car, either. My fellow Canadians will remember Kristen French, who was nabbed by Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka when pretty Karla stopped and leaned out a window with a map to ask her for help. I tell my daughters to be wary of all cars, even those with women.

    2. Never consume alcohol. Period. If they want to drink once they're married, I'm fine with that. But it compromises your judgment, and you need that. To other kids who are not my daughters, and who are not so inclined to listen to me, I would say: do not drink outside of your own home/apartment. Never drink unless you are in the presence of at least one other female who is not drinking as much as you are.

    3. Don't be alone in a boy's room. Don't let him into your room. If you're engaged, and you're older, keep the door open. Live with roommates and make sure they're around. And if you ever get weird vibes with a guy you're dating, leave.

    4. Try as hard as you can not to accept rides from people you don't know very well. Try to make sure there are girls in the car, too. If that's not possible, or if it's a guy you've been dating for a while, don't drive for the sake of driving. Drive because you have somewhere to go and you're expected there at a certain time. Other than that, try to walk. It's cheaper and healthier.

    5. Watch what you wear. Give off the impression that you want to be treated with class. Don't give off the impression that you're interested in sex, because that's how people will start to see you. Dress to attract the kind of person you want (though of course we have to remember that many people who rape appear like upstanding citizens).

    6. If you walk in the dark, walk with your keys in one hand and your cell phone in the other.

    7. Live with other girls. Don't live alone. Always have a roommate.

    8. Make sure someone always knows where you're supposed to be, and what time you're supposed to be home.

    9. Have a code word you can say to your friend or parent on the phone when you are in trouble.

    Will these rules mean that they won't be assaulted? No. Nothing can guarantee anything. But I still think it's better to be wise and overcautious than to be silly and dangerous when it comes to something as serious as sexual assault.

    So, to reiterate, if someone attacks you, that is never your fault.

    At the same time, though, we should all try as hard as possible to avoid danger. We can never eliminate the risk, but we can reduce it. And if it's possible to reduce it, then isn't that a worthy goal?

    None of this should have any bearing on feminism. I know at one point women were blamed for rape based on what they were wearing, because they "asked for it", or based on their profession, or even based on the fact that they were married to the potential rapist (a husband can't rape his wife, after all, so the thought went). All of these things were archaic and evil, and I'm glad they're gone. Rape is rape.

    But again, just because the guy should be held morally and legally responsible for rape does not mean that women should just assume they can do whatever they want and thus be safe. The world doesn't work that way. Whether we like it or not, we are the weaker sex. We are vulnerable. It's up to us to be smart and reduce the risk. No, we can't eliminate it. But I'd rather teach my girls at least how to reduce it, instead of saying, "rape is never your fault!", and leaving it at that. I want to prepare them for the real world. Don't you?


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    Sometimes You Need to Walk in the Garden

    Spent this morning walking in a rose garden and strolling by beautiful old homes with their host as and roses and petunias and irises swaying in the wind. It was marvelous.

    I needed that today. Last night we watched a really disturbing movie. I don't know why we rented it; I often like action movies (as long as there's not too much swearing), but we couldn't find anything in the store except the movie Unthinkable.

    The movie actually was quite good, I suppose. The problem was that it was so disturbing.

    Here's the premise: an American who has converted to Islam has managed to get his hand on enough nuclear material to build 3 (or 4) bombs. He has placed these bombs around the country in secret locations. The government has found him, but not the bombs. So how do you get him to tell you where they are?

    In comes Samuel L. Jackson's character, who proceeds to torture him, to the horror of FBI agent Brody, played by Carrie Anne Moss from the Matrix. She is your typical politically correct agent. She "respects" the Koran. She thinks he's brave. She says no one is allowed to torture at all, and we should simply ask the guy questions.

    I won't tell you what happens later in the movie, because it doesn't really matter for this post. But the movie ends up asking the question, "could you do the unthinkable to get information?" Is it right to do the unthinkable?

    At one point Moss' character decides it's not, and says, "We can't do this! Just let the bomb go off!" (knowing that six million people will die). I'm not sure what I think, after watching the movie. I'm not as squeamish about torture as some people are, although I don't really want to go into that here. I think we're in a horrible conflict with a barbarian enemy, and it's very hard to win against barbarians if you insist on being completely civilized. The problem that I keep coming back to is this: is it worth surviving if you give up your civilized nature? If you have to give up who you are, is it worth saving all those lives? We can have different answers to that, but at least it's an important question to ask. I often feel that those who reject torture out right fail to realize that by doing so, you could be condemning millions to die. If you've thought about it and still feel that's worth it, okay. At least we're debating on the same plane. But don't pretend like we can win a war where we're always pristine. I don't think we can.

    And that's why I needed to go for a walk in the rose garden today, because I was just overwhelmed with the ugliness of the world after watching that movie. Many things are ugly, of course, that are in the news on a daily basis: child kidnappings, rapes, gang shootings. Or there's ugliness just in natural disasters, like the recent floods in Pakistan.

    Somehow, though, I find that ugliness easier to deal with. Natural disasters are just that. You can't blame anyone for them. Violence against another is usually an aberration. It can be explained as an evil individual, and it doesn't mean that the society itself is poisoned. Even corrupt governments that hurt their people I can better get my head around, because again, we're dealing with a minority oppressing a majority, and somewhere you hope that the majority does not share this view.

    But what this movie brought home is that the ugliness may one day have to be in all of us, if we are to survive. And I don't like that. As a Christian, I can't accept that. I don't like thinking about it. I don't like that this existential conflict that our society is involved in cannot be won cleanly, for I don't believe it can. And so I pray for those who will one day have to make these hard decisions, that they will do the right thing, because I do not claim to know what the right thing is.

    It just makes me feel dirty to live here. I know it is only because I saw the movie so recently, and then my dreams were haunted by it, but sometimes you need your palate cleansed. And so I walked through the roses, and saw the beauty, and smelled the flowers, and realized that even in the midst of ugliness beauty can grow. Perhaps that is all we are asked to do: bloom even when the world is ugly. We can't control what happens at those upper echelons of government or army decision making. We can't control terrorism, or violence, or evil. All we can do is to try to live out Jesus, where we are.

    Some people will be asked to do horrible, impossible jobs before all of this over. I pray for them, and I'm glad that I am not among them. But let's not be quick to condemn, for I'm not sure that there always is a right thing to do that's obvious at the time. We've been debating the HIroshima bomb for over sixty years now (I support Truman's decision there), and people still aren't satisfied. But how can you be, when such evil exists in this earth? When evil exists, there isn't always a nice, clean answer. And I think I will stop looking for one, and just pray for those who are tasked with finding one. In the meantime, I think I'll plant roses.


    About Me

    Name: Sheila

    Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

    About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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