autobiographies, books for women, Christian, writing

One Beautiful Dream

One Beautiful Dream: The Rollicking Tale of Family Chaos, Personal Passions, and Saying Yes to Them Both by [Fulwiler, Jennifer]

One Beautiful Dream: The rollicking tale of family chaos, personal passions, and saying yes to them both, by Jennifer Fulwiler. Published May 2018. 240 pages.

As I got into this book then did a bit of digging, I realized that its author, Jennifer Fulwiler, is something of a Catholic Internet celebrity and as such, hardly as anonymous to the Catholic faithful as she was to me. I only heard of her because a paleo food blogger I happen to follow on Instagram heartily endorsed the book.

One Beautiful Dream is best characterized as a memoir chronicling Fulwiler’s journey as a mother of six very closely spaced children alongside the pursuit of her dream to make it as a writer. A dream which I hasten to interject, was heartily encouraged by her husband, who repeatedly implored her not to give it up. I instantly liked this woman. She has a wicked sense of humor and a way of expressing it that I thoroughly enjoyed reading.

I’ve said on numerous occasions that I am a slow reader. Nevertheless, I finished this book in two days. This was partly because the conversational tone makes it easy to read, and partly because rather than do my usual routine of bouncing between books when I have free time, I kept picking this one up, continuing to read it until the end. I found myself invested in seeing how Jennifer’s story would end even as I was turning the pages of its culmination.

There’s another, deeper reason that this book resonated with me, and it was that I appreciated this woman’s gut wrenching wrestling match between pursuing her passion and trying to be a good wife and mother, a juggling act she admittedly bungled more often than not. She often wavered, wondering whether it was fair to her kids or right for a mother to devote large amounts of time and energy to such endeavors.

That was, until she realized with the help of a wise priest’s counsel, that her insistence on compartmentalizing the segments of her life rather than cultivating an integrated life of wholeness was the root of her problem. Her life was chaotic (well, even more chaotic than a life with six kids under 10 is prone to be) because she failed to connect everything together. More than that, she needed to trust God that His will would be done in her life on His timetable.

After nearly a decade blogging in and alongside the Christian/biblical womanhood Internet community before finally realizing the folly of formulaic living, this book was for me, a breath of fresh air. Not because I agree with everything Jennifer Fulwiler believes, does and says –I am a raging Protestant after all- but because she hits at the heart of the matter: She did what she did with the full encouragement and enthusiastic coaching of her husband, the cheer-leading of her children and support of her extended family which meant she did exactly what she was supposed to do, regardless of whether it offends the sensibilities of the “this is the way to be the perfect Christian wife” crowd.

Did I mention that she has a wonderful sense of humor? Well she does, and one of my favorite laugh out loud passages is on page 125, because it is one of the best representations of her story telling prowess. It’s the story of what happened when she was given the opportunity to get a break and attend a ladies’ retreat offered by her church. She got more than she bargained for:

In my rush to get away, I had not looked into the details of this weekend before I signed up. And that, it now occurred to me, was a grave error.

In my defense, I had no idea that Catholics even did retreats like this. I had many Evangelical friends (again, “friends” meaning “people I talked to on my computer from the shadowy recesses of my home”) who described events at their churches as riotously fun gatherings where people sung and waved their hands and used the word fellowship as a verb. I had counted on my Catholic brethren to put together an emotionless, entirely cerebral retreat, and now it seems that they had failed me completely. p.125

When all is said and done, this is a good book because the author shared her story in a funny, relatable, truthful way. She didn’t pretend to be perfect or have it all figured out, but she learned and grew in grace along the way. Which is the best any of us can really hope for this side of Heaven.

4 out of 5 stars.

No content advisory necessary.

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books for women, Culture, marriage and relationships, nonfiction

Otherhood.

Otherhood: Modern Women Finding a New Kind of Happiness, by Melanie Notkin. Originally published in 2014. 320 pages.

The cognitive dissonance is strong in this one. However, we’ll start with an overview of what the book is about as opposed to what it purports to be about, which is how the increasing number of childless women in our culture can live fulfilling lives of contribution.

Otherhood, a title I ran across while reading an article somewhere, piqued my curiosity for reasons that have little to do with being a modern woman longing for a new kind of happiness. Perfectly content with my old-fashioned kind of happiness, I sought this book out because of my intense interest in what it takes to build community across all lines. Community, of the real life, flesh and blood variety, is something I think a lot about.

In our current culture, where marriage rates are plummeting for all kinds of reasons, how can families integrate single, childless people into our lives seamlessly in ways that increase cohesiveness, and perhaps even create opportunities for people of like faith and values to meet and form families? The fact that this author is reportedly a devout traditional Jewish woman came back to bite me because the tone of the book was anything but that of a traditional religious woman.

This tome was a big, long lament about the treacherous and unfriendly water that the New York City sexual marketplace is for a single woman looking for love and marriage. True love of course, and nothing less, and how her refusal to marry a man she doesn’t want to have sex with after 20 years of looking makes her a victim of “circumstantial infertility”. Mind you, however, none of this means she is looking for a Prince Charming (language alert):

“I mean, is Prince Charming really the kind of man who seems like he knows how to have great sex? Because he doesn’t seem like that to me.” He seems like a great-looking guy who got lucky being born into royalty. I’m not attracted to lucky. I’m attracted to hard work. Hard work is much more f*ck-able than luck-able.”

Not being aware of the latest authority on cultural hot topics has come back to bite me on many occasions, and this was another one. If I had taken the time before reading this 300+ page whine-fest, I would have been fully aware of what I could expect from Otherhood and its author’s schtick.

Of the 28 chapters in this book, fully 19 of them were about the heartbreak and hazards of dating in NYC. Does the state of affairs in NYC surprise anyone besides the author and her friends who contributed stories to this book?

The only chapter which even began to touch on the subject I was interested in was near the end, titled “Savvy Aunties”. That particular chapter was about the ways that women whose maternal instinct was never allowed to give physical birth could be manifested in myriad ways to the children they know and love and even those they don’t who just need love.

To Notkin’s credit, she steadfastly refused to take the advice of her friends and colleagues who implored to either have a baby on her own, or marry a man with whom she had no desire to build a life whatsoever for the sake of having a baby. Unfortunately, she was so obsessed with first date chemistry that she dismissed a lot of men with whom she might have been able to build a beautiful traditional Jewish family.

In the end, despite all her protestations to the contrary, she wasn’t as traditional as she thought she was. And while I am fully convinced that there truly are women -and men!- out there who are “circumstantially infertile” in this culture does everything in its power to dissuade, marginalize, and isolate the very people who would be best equipped to pass on religious morals and values to the next generation, Notkin did not persuade me that she was among that number. She wasted a valuable opportunity.

Traditional Judaism with a side of Sex in the City is not a recipe that encourages family formation nor strong families.

Like said, the cognitive dissonance was strong in this one.

2 out of 5 stars.

content advisory: Smatterings of frank sex talk, but nothing overly graphic or over the top.

books for women, genres, tales from the local library

The anti-aging genre.

I ran across this cluster of books in our library’s featured titles section and was immediately struck by the implications. In the health section of that library, which is one of the smallest branches in our county, there are tens more of them. Given the explosion of books dedicated exclusive to cheating Father Time, I’d say anti-aging qualifies as its own genre separate from health and wellness. There is a distinction to be made between desiring wholeness and well-being, and a dogged pursuit of the fountain of youth.

The opposite of aging, for those unaware, is death. We either age or die, and we certainly cannot “age backwards”. So books with titles like these bother me, and here’s why:

Look at the psychological game the library tries to play here by marking these books as part of the ya category (young adult). Why would a young adult be interested in a book on looking younger? Conversely, what do these books’ target audience gain from the characterization of the books as young adult?

They are, after all, marketed directly to women like me. Namely, these are catnip for 40-something women, many of whom are in various stages of mini-crises. The crises range from sexual and relational, to career and motherhood and everything in between.

In our youth worshiping culture, a woman who is recently divorced, grappling with her rapidly changing body, or just watching a daughter blossom into everything she used to be, these titles are tempting. I find them sad. And yes, even I have read a book or two which focus on adding a little friction (okay, focus on adding a lot of friction) to what can feel like a fast downward slide. Usually they are –like this one- medical in scope.

One of the reasons I review the books I read about this season of life, even though I grappled at first with whether to do it, is that openness helps keep me tethered to the reality of where I am on life’s journey. It makes it possible to grow older gracefully* rather than give in to the pretense of stopping the inevitable or turning back the clock. There is no way we can be 25 again, or 35 again, no matter how well we eat and how far we go to pretend otherwise.

I recognize that my life has been touched by heaping measures of grace and love which make it easy (or easier, at least) for me to grow older gracefully. I’m not in the brutal postmodern dating market. My husband long ago lost all objectivity concerning my looks and desirability, which I embrace as the blessing that it is. I have adult children, but also relatively young children to raise yet as well. There are bits of residue and vestiges of younger years present in my daily life.

At the end of the day, however, 46 is 46 is 46. Age is not relative, and all any of us can do is take the best care of ourselves that we possibly can, enjoy where we are, and try to live in a way that brings comfort and solace during our twilight years. Fantasizing over books telling us we can “crack the aging code” are not helpful over the long run.

But since when has contentment sold any books?

*Disclosure: I am fully persuaded that my grandmother would vehemently disagree with my assertion that I am growing older gracefully with one perusal of one of my health receipts. She could stretch the dollars I spend on collagen peptides, bio-identical progesterone, make up and skin care over a fortnight with little effort. Hopefully the money I save on hair dye and anti-aging books makes up for it. A little.

book clubs, books for women, Christian, nonfiction

Unglued

Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions, by Lisa TerKeurst. Originally published in 2012. Paperback, 208 pages.

I actually read this book for the first time three years ago as a part of a book study with several other homeschool mothers. Included in the discussions was Lysa TerKeurst’s teaching videos to accompany blocks of chapters. The book was infinitely more insightful than the videos, and several of the women reading it agreed that the videos were pretty useless. Skip those if you run across them.

I’m reviewing the book because I stumbled upon it on the bookshelf while deciding which books to purge and make space for new books. Memories of my initial reaction to the book were positive. However, since I am notoriously on the lookout for the areas in my life which merit tweaking, leading to inevitable evolutions of thoughts on one thing or  another, I skimmed it again to see if I’d view it the same way after a second pass through.

Short answer: I still think it’s a pretty good book. It’s the only book by Lysa TerKeurst that I have ever read, and despite the recent controversies surrounding her life and ministry, I have to say that on the main, it’s a helpful book for women who need a little help redirecting their thoughts and reactions in a positive direction.

There was a lot of things in the book that I’d worked out on my own through prayer, in relationshipss and a bit of honest introspection, as should be the case with any earnest, God-fearing women, especially those raising families. However, since we have all at some point experienced the incredulity and truama of encounters with women that mirror high school escapades, Lysa TerKeurst’s book is not beyond being useful. There are some good reminders in it, even for me.

For example, there was this much needed bit of counsel in our culture where women have been taught that our feelings are no less than the be all, end all of everything that matters in our lives:

“Feelings are indicators, not dictators. They can indicate where your heart is in the moment, but that doesn’t mean they have the right to dictate your behavior and boss you around. You are more than the sum total of your feelings and perfectly capable of that little gift . . . called self-control.”

Or this bit, which I’m not sure I’m interpreting quite the way she meant since I didn’t re-read the book in its entirety:

“Sip the shame so you won’t have to guzzle the regret.”

Using “perfect” as my subjective understanding of all things relational and theological, it’s not a perfect book. The error would be in expecting any person to perfectly mirror my thoughts and beliefs on an issue. In my opinion, what this book does right outweighs what it does wrong, so I deem overall as a positive book.

With chapters on everything from being cognizant of our reactions and what they mean to the awful tendency to project our thoughts, feelings and insecurities onto others without any real supporting evidence, Lysa TerKeurst did a decent job with this one.

 

3.5 out of 5 stars.

I’ve changing the rating system going forward because I think using 5 stars as the highest benchmark with 1 star as the lowest is a better gauge than letter grades.

 

 

 

 

 

books for women, Christian, marriage and relationships, Uncategorized

Created to Be His Helpmeet, pt. 2

created to be

In the first part of this review I indicated that I would review this in two parts because it was structured as 2 books. I wish it were 2 books, or better, that Mrs. Pearl would have ended at the close of part one. While I gave part one a ‘B-‘, part two deserves a solid ‘D’.

As I finished part one, I was satisfied because American women, including the Christians, have mostly discarded Biblical marriage by reinterpreting  commands that are clearly and repeatedly indicated in Scripture. That increasingly bothers me and was the reason I was willing to overlook some of the problems in part one. It tilted much more in favor of Biblical marriage than most Christian women would admit.

One thing I hate even more than the state of American womanhood however, is the misandry that is now common in our culture, the media, and many churches. Underneath all of Mrs. Pearl’s wisdom concerning loving our husbands was a strong undercurrent of misandry; painting of men as one-dimensional beings, only interested in sex or unable to handle being challenged.

My antennae first went up during part one when she described the angel Lucifer as a “male being” in an attempt to explain some facets of masculine behavior. I’m not sure why in retrospect, but I let that gross error go, giving her the benefit of the doubt. I can see now that it was a taste of things to come. Is she comparing men to devils? Since we know unequivocally that God our Father, and Jesus, His Son, our Messiah, are masculine, where then does that leave us?

I can think of literally one thing in part two I agreed with. On page 217 was the story of a Vicky, whose husband didn’t lift a finger to fix anything around the house. While his own home fell apart, he was quick to rise and ride to the rescue of elderly women in the neighborhood who needed things around their homes fixed.  Mrs. Pearl is right that a woman are perfectly capable of taking care of yard work, painting a room, or fixing a leaky faucet.

I hate the trend becoming prevalent Christians as we attempt to distance ourselves from an androgynous culture: that jobs around the house  requiring any sweat or strength are inherently “men’s work” or that the sphere of the wife is limited to the work that requires little sweat equity: cooking, sewing, cleaning, and caring for the children. A good wife does what needs to be done if she can do it. There is no logical reason why the grass in our yard should remain overgrown until my husband is available on the weekends to cut it when I am at home everyday, presumably to manage the home. Unfortunately,  there wasn’t anything more to embrace in part 2.

Mrs. Pearl’s asserted repeatedly that mothers could, by virtue of perfectly watchful eyes, keep all harm from befalling their children. She offered a scenario in which a young child might be molested if his or her mother turned her back for even a couple of minutes. And yes, she said a couple of minutes. I understand the point she was attempting to make, but I thought that her line of reasoning went too far, and furthermore, was wrought with inconsistency. No one can keep their eyes on their children every minute of every day. Are mothers allowed to sleep?

That inconsistency showed again when she advised, rightly, that women whose husbands insist that they get a job do so. Does the wife in this position still bear guilt if harm befalls her child while in submission to her husband?

Another blatant inconsistency was the beginning of the chapter titled, “‘To Obey or Not To Obey?”  The chapter began with the story of a woman who went to “extreme” measures to get the attention of her husband, who was addicted to pornography. Given the rest of the exceptions to unquestioned obedience outlined throughout the rest of the section, the reader is left to assume that the Pearls agree with the actions of this wronged wife. However earlier in the book, there is the story of a woman whose husband frequented strip clubs and visited prostitutes. That wife is hailed as a hero for honoring her husband with love and sex even as he committed acts that were as bad, worse in fact, than the husband who was addicted to pornography.

Of all the objections I had to part two, however, none was so striking as Mrs. Pearl’s exploration of the Titus 2 command for wives “to love their husbands.” It was the only time throughout the book where I felt the need to double-check my understanding of a word by grabbing our great big Strong’s concordance. She limited her very long explanation of the command to love our men strictly to the bedroom, going so far as calling lovemaking a husband’s “most consuming passion”, putting it on the level of food as a desperate biological.

Whenever I hear sex held on par with food, it makes me shudder. This is the reasoning used by those forces who would encourage sexual activity by children at younger and younger ages. I certainly appreciate the importance of the physical relationship between a husband and wife in a marriage, and I’m no prude who believes in rationing intimacy based on my moods or whims.

Still, the word Paul used to describe what it means to love our husbands meant ‘to show affection, to be fond of, to admire’. It is the Greek word philos, often used to describe loving friendships. Mrs. Pearl implied that the only thing that matters is the sex. This is diminishing of men, implying that they don’t care whether or not their wives like them, so long as they get sex.

I was disappointed with part two of this book because part one held such promise. I cannot recommend this book in good conscience.

Part 2 Grade: D

 

books for women, Christian, marriage and relationships

Created to Be His Helpmeet, pt. 1

created to be

Created to Be His Helpmeet, by Debi Pearl. Originally published in 2004.

Since the book is divided into  two parts, almost like 2 books in 1, I’ll do its review in two parts. Part 1 is titled The Help Meet.

Part 1 is pretty good. There were a few things I disagreed with, and in fact, I offer my review with this very strong caveat: I do not recommend this to anyone in an extremely troubled marriage. It could be damaging to the heart of a woman who is doing all she can with no positive response from her man. In fact, I would suggest those in such marriages refrain from reading random books for pat answers.

If there was one thing that bothered me most about this book, it was the testimonials implying that any woman can single handedly save the man, the marriage, the family, and her sanity all by following the advice within its pages. It seemed to imply that a wife could, by prayerfully striking all the right notes, render a husband’s free will  irrelevant as he succumbed to the power of her perfectness as a help meet. That’s a dangerous seed to plant into the mind of a desperate wife.

To her credit, she pointed out that husbands who engage in sinful behavior were responsible for their own actions. I’d read reviews where women accused her of blaming wives for everything wrong in their marriages. I didn’t get that. It’s a book written by a woman, to women, about the responsibilities of women in marriage. That necessarily demands focused discussion rather than extensive caveats and attempts to balance.

Additionally, I was put off by the idea of wives ceasing to be individuals upon marriage.  I believe in loving, radical submission and making every effort to please your husband, but the implication that one’s total being is to be immersed in him is not a Christian teaching. My husband wants me to think, not parrot his thoughts.

With those stipulations, part one was still very good. For wives in reasonably good marriages, or who just need a glimpse of what a submissive wife looks like (far too many have never seen it) this is instructive. There were things I wasn’t fully conscious of in my attitude until I saw it while reading this book. It was good mirror for me. Now to some of the specifics.

I laughed out loud when I read the letter and the author’s response to the woman whose husband was getting a little too chummy with the office secretary. In part because this was, if memory serves, one of the points of controversy in the book. That this wife was advised to make her self more attractive than “the office wench” made many women howl in objection. The second reason I found it funny was because the advice sounds very close to what my godly grandmother-in-law, now 93, would say if I came to her with this type of dilemma.

This is only controversial because of our cultural sensibilities. For the sake of brevity, I will not reprint 1 Corinthians 7 here, but click on the link to read it. If a woman wishes to keep her man’s attentions, of course she needs to do what needed to be done to make herself attractive to him.  It doesn’t guarantee he won’t stray, but life doesn’t come with guarantees.

The reason I gave part 1 of this book fairly high marks was the extensive amount of ink -3 chapters- dedicated to the importance of being joyful, content, and thankful. These are invaluable to the health of any relationship and the fact that Mrs. Pearl understood this and called out women on their tendency to be ungrateful, even when they have pretty good husbands, was in my opinion, almost totally worth overlooking the parts I didn’t care for.

Specifically, I noted the women who complained because their husbands watched television, or “weren’t spiritual enough”, or any other number of minor things that were being blown up into major things.Women do fall into that trap. I’ve seen it more times than I can count and I appreciated Mrs. Pearl’s wisdom in pointing out that the notion that women are more spiritual than men is damaging to marriages.

Such wives inwardly exalt themselves over their husbands while pretending to be the dutiful, submissive wife. Looking for the good in our men, being thankful for the fact that we have good men, and refusing to try and make them be more like what we want than who God made them to be, is always good advice.

In a section titled, “Wisdom to Know Your Man”, Mrs. Pearl and her daughter lay out three different categories they claimed most men fall into: Mr. Command Man, Mr. Visionary, and Mr. Steady. I think that the idea that most men fit neatly into one of these three boxes was an oversimplification. If I had to categorize my husband, it would unquestionably be in the first category, Mr. Command, but there are nuances which her book failed to acknowledge.

I agree with her that certain types of men are more reserved and deliberate, and a strong woman can get frustrated with that type of man and dominate rather than appreciate him. I also remember when I was very displeased with my husband’s refusal -inability?- to capitulate to me. In time I learned that God knew I needed a strong man. We fit well together.

This book covers so much ground that it would be impossible for me to cover it all. I realize that my favorable review is not shared by many. In fact, the things that give me pause are what caused me to issue the word of caution above. This book isn’t for everyone.

Because I have always been a “big picture” type of person, it was easy for me to appreciate the good in this book despite its limitations. And I liked part 1.

Part 1 Grade: B-

Next time, I’ll take a look at part two.