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Nine Helpful Marriage Books

Flowers from my husband

Right now the shops may be full of pink hearts, roses, and chocolate treats, but I encourage us all to focus on strengthening our marriages.  Our relationship with our spouse is, after all, the foundation of our family and homeschool, as well as a reflection of the relationship between Christ and the Church.  Therefore it needs our daily attention.

I have been reminded of that over and over lately.  You see, last year was a very marriage-focused year for us.  By the grace of God my dear husband and I celebrated our 25th anniversary.  My parents celebrated their 50th anniversary, as my in-laws had done the year before.  And, providentially, I was inundated with books about marriage, most of which I reviewed.

As a result of all that, here is a list of nine marriage-building books I’d like to share with you.

Now, of course not even all the books in the world will keep our marriages safe.  We are all human with hearts full of self-deceit and sin.  We all need to be saved from ourselves and each one of us needs God’s Holy Spirit in order to love our spouse as we should.  Yet God can use books to help us serve him and avoid sin in our marriages.

So, with a prayer that some of these will benefit some of you, here is a list of helpful marriage resources (with links to my reviews):

The Bible.  Even the parts of the Bible that seem to say nothing about marriage can have a profound influence on that most special relationship, because the foundation of our marriages is our relationship with God.  As many devout Christians have pointed out, God needs to be at the center of our marriages.  We should not be worshipping our spouses, much less ourselves or some abstract idea of marriage; we should worship our God.  Once that focus is in place, our marriages can thrive.  So, number one:  read your Bible; if this is difficult for you, the link has some suggestions.

The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages by Shaunti Feldhahn.  This intensely practical book shares research about the habits of the happiest couples.  Many of the habits are listed in my review, but I highly recommend that every married person buy this book to understand the ideas and to implement them.  Feldhahn’s clear suggestions are based on what works in real life for hundreds of happy couples, not on what some counsellor thinks should work based on his or her ideas, secular studies, or personal experience.  As expected, research points out that faith plays a significant role in many of the happiest marriages.

The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy and Kathy Keller.  In this discussion of what marriage is and should be, the authors repeatedly point us to the Bible to remind us that Jesus—and nothing and no one else—gives us meaning and significance; that our natural self-centeredness is the essence of sin; and that the cure for the self-centeredness and neediness that attack our marriages is God’s salvation.  Basically, the Kellers write that the gospel teaches us about marriage, and marriage makes us rely on the gospel.  My review focuses on studying this book with a group, but it is equally good to read individually or as a couple.

My Beloved and My Friend by Hal and Melanie Young. This is yet another Biblical marriage manual, focusing specifically on the friendship between husband and wife.  Its goal is to tell us How to be Married to your Best Friend without Changing Spouses.   I have learned that unfriendly or careless attitudes can very easily sneak into life, especially during times of stress, and especially in marriage.  Before long, we wonder what’s wrong, and often the simple fact is that we no longer treat each other with ‘the same tolerance, grace, forgiveness and trust’ that we show to our other friends.   That is the problem this book seeks to address.

The Marriage You’ve Always Wanted by Gary Chapman.  Chapman states that the goal of marriage is the deep, total union of a couple on all levels—intellectual, social, spiritual, emotional, and physical.  With such a lofty goal, it’s no wonder that he encounters many ‘problem’ marriages.  In fact, it’s a wonder he has encountered a single good one.   Chapman’s book is practical while also discussing background causes—as well as solutions—for common difficulties.  However, this book is not only about marriage; it’s also about living a Christian life because that is the foundation to meaningful Christian marriages. Chapman helps people think about their own sins rather than their spouse’s, and he says: “Discipline yourself to live with a clear conscience toward God and your mate.”

The Good News About Marriage by Shaunti Feldhahn is not a marriage manual at all.  Instead it is a thorough analysis of all the available marriage data with the surprising and heartening conclusion that most of the things our culture ‘knows’ about marriage are false.  That’s right.  It’s not true that half of all marriages fail, most marriages are unhappy, it takes years of painful work to fix a bad marriage, remarriages are unlikely to succeed, and Christians’ divorce rates are the same as unbelievers’.   These ideas are debunked and instead, Feldhahn’s research gives hope about marriage, especially Christian marriage.  That hope can give struggling marriages a life line and thus help to save them.  I have compared Feldhahn’s two books with Chapman’s.

Pure Love by George Van Popta.  This little gem is not a marriage manual either and is far more inspiring than most of those.  Van Popta has gathered all the joy and emotion of the Song of Songs and distilled it into a series of 24 beautiful sonnets.  All of the previous books would make excellent engagement or wedding gifts.  Save this one for the wedding, though.

Married Mom, Solo Parent by Carla Anne Coroy.  I read this book years ago and still recommend it.  If you have an absentee husband, whether because of the military, work, ministry, health, hobbies, or personality, Carla Anne Coroy’s Married Mom, Solo Parent will show you how to make even that work for good.  Carla Anne is both practical and sympathetic, but nowhere does she encourage a solo parent wife to feel sorry for herself or to take her discouragement out on her husband.  Rather she encourages a lonely wife to live as God would have her live, even in difficult circumstances.

Money and Marriage by Matt Bell.  Since many marriages face trouble because of money issues, it may be worth your while checking out this book. However, the problem with this kind of book is that it could lead to more difficulties than it solves unless both spouses agree on whether or not to read and implement it.  On the other hand, if a couple agrees to read it together, it could make all the difference in the world.

So which one of these 9 should you pick? 

As mentioned above, the Bible is foundational to marriage.  If you can manage only one book, read the Bible, and if you choose any of the other books, read the Bible first.  And then, if you are looking:

  • for practical help, try The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages; My Beloved and My Friend; The Marriage You’ve Always Wanted; Married Mom, Solo Parent; or Money and Marriage.
  • for a better understanding of marriage and how it works, look at The Meaning of Marriage and The Good News About Marriage.
  • for inspiration straight from the Bible, read Pure Love.

Finally, if you are dissatisfied with your marriage, remember Ann Voskamp’s profoundly simple discovery in One Thousand Gifts, “By giving thanks for the life you have, you get the life you want.”  We humans don’t know how it works, but there it is:  obeying God’s commandment to be thankful will give us a lot to be thankful for.

It is my prayer that this list of encouraging resources will bring increased contentment to many families.  May God bless each one of you for his glory, for the security of your children, and for the joy of your marriage.

For more encouragement, visit Saturday Reviews, Booknificent Thursdays, The Book Nook, Raising Homemakers, Titus 2 Tuesday, Works for Me Wednesday, Mom to Mom Monday, Monday’s Musings, Missional WeekendR&R Wednesdays, From House to Home, Homemaking Mondays, Good Morning Mondays, Make Your Home Sing Mondays, Faith Filled Fridays.

Disclosure:  As usual there are no affiliate links here.  Most of the links above are to my reviews of different quality marriage resources, many of which I received in order to review them.

Review: The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy and Kathy Keller



Last year some of us gathered on balmy summer evenings to discuss Timothy and Kathy Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage.  It was an inspiring study book and a wonderful shared experience.

The Meaning of Marriage, based on Ephesians 5 and Genesis 2, discusses all aspects of marriage, from its meaning and purpose to the nitty gritty of daily life and the glory of sex.  Timothy and Kathy remind us that marriage, like life, is not ‘all about me’ and that our culture is completely wrong about most, if not all, aspects of it.  Instead they point us to the Bible, over and over again, to remind us that Jesus, and nothing and no one else, gives us meaning and significance; that our natural self-centeredness is the essence of sin; and that the cure for the self-centeredness and neediness that attacks our marriages is God’s salvation.

The Kellers’ foundational assumption is that marriage is glorious but hard.  They even say, “…like knowing God himself, coming to know and love your spouse is difficult and painful yet rewarding and wondrous.”

In fact, the Kellers write that the gospel teaches us about marriage, and marriage makes us rely on the gospel.  This, I would say, is the essence of the book and is why, after 25 years of marriage, I can recommend it whole-heartedly.

The Meaning of Marriage is an excellent study book, even though it has no study guide.  Each chapter contains enough solid concepts and Bible references for serious discussions and enough stories to make it real.  The Kellers also makes some surprising statements and have some startling assumptions, perfect for getting people talking and even debating. This is the kind of book that can bring a study group closer together.

While most of our study group had not experienced the difficulties that the Kellers assume all marriages have, that could be because most of us are not first-generation Christians.  What a blessing that is!  This realization also reminds us of the responsibility we have to our children to be good examples so that they will know what a good Christian marriage is like.

Our study group had also not all experienced the negative, patronizing attitudes most people apparently have towards the opposite sex.  That could be a gender thing.  The men seemed to identify more with the idea that doing things differently is not doing them as well as they could be done, whereas the women seemed to identify ‘different’ with interesting.  Or it could be a cultural thing, because I was well over 40 before I heard a Christian friend with a different background say about her husband, “Oh, isn’t that just like a man!”  Or, once again, it could be a result of most of us having grown up in nth generation Christian families.

Even though–or perhaps because–we did not identify completely with the Kellers’ assumptions, this was a thought-provoking and marriage-enhancing study.

Although this review has focused on a study group’s use of  The Meaning of Marriage, I highly recommend it to Christian individuals (married or single) and couples as well.  It will give both hope and reality to your relationships and will strengthen your understanding of the gospel, whether you are a new or long-time Christian.

This is yet another book in the in the 2015 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge and is also linked to Saturday Reviews, Booknificent Thursdays, and The Book Nook.  For more encouragement, visit Raising Homemakers, Titus 2 Tuesday, Works for Me Wednesday, Mom to Mom Monday, Monday’s Musings, Missional WeekendR&R Wednesdays, From House to Home, Homemaking Mondays, Good Morning Mondays, Make Your Home Sing Mondays, Faith Filled Fridays

Disclosure: I bought this book for a Bible study and am not compensated for this review in any way.

A Snowy World

snowy day

Fluffy balls of snow drifting down relentlessly, exploding softly on our faces….

We don’t have a lot of snow like some of you do, but we are enjoying what we do have…except for the shovelling and the driving.

And while it is coming down, before it means work and danger, it is so beautiful and makes our home feel so cozy!

Wishing all of you a safe and peaceful weekend, full of Sabbath rest and joy.

snowy day

Review: The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts by Douglas Bond


The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts

Even though many of his hymns are still loved and sung, Isaac Watts himself, the ‘Father of English Hymnody’ is not well known.  Who was he?  Why did he write his hymns?  What influenced him? Is his work still important today?

Douglas Bond, who attributes a deeply emotional conversion experience to Watts’ hymn ‘When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,’ answers these questions and more in The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts.

Martin Luther said that, “We need poets in a reformation,” and Bond uses that to suggest that all Christians need the poetry of Isaac Watts.

  • We need his poetry in our lives to revitalize our understanding and our imagination.
  • Our culture needs his hymns in our churches to help us reform our singing.
  • We all need his example of patience during suffering as we live our lives.

Watts was born soon after the Great Plague, his father was imprisoned for being a non-conformist, and he was surrounded by Huguenots who had escaped from French persecution.  At a young age he learned that life was not easy.  Yet his father, a learned and godly man, encouraged his children to praise God and to avoid bitterness.  Isaac’s native love of rhyme and rhythm combined with these influences and he began to write hymns and devotional poetry at a very young age.

Though the messages at the dissenting church that Watts attended as a youth were always good, the singing was apparently not.  Once, when Isaac complained about the ‘ugly hymns’ they had just sung, his father sternly pointed out, “If you do not like the hymns, young man, then give us something better.”  That afternoon he produced a fine hymn, soon the congregation sang it, and so began his life as a hymn-writer.

He kept on writing hymns, while a student, while a tutor, and later while a minister.  Drawing his inspiration from the Bible, he versified Psalms and other portions of the Bible, always showing how the passage, whether from the Old Testament or the New, referred to Christ.  When he was a preacher, he wrote hymns to accompany his preaching, hymns full of Biblical truth as well as emotion.

Bond goes through many of the hymns Watts wrote including those for children, those based on theological issues, and those based on the Psalms, discussing their meaning, origin, and style.  Watts wrote much of his children’s poetry to fulfill a friend’s request for an effective way of teaching children Bible knowledge, again always referring to Christ.  He presented some of the most difficult ideas of the Bible in hymns that moved even those who disagreed with him.  In my opinion, his work on the Psalms produced some of his most beautiful hymns, and I love the way Bond goes through them verse by verse:

Watts was more than a great hymn writer.  He was also a devoted tutor, a lover of God’s creation, a dedicated preacher, a gentle pastor, and a man who patiently suffered both pain and illness during much of his life.  He prayed.  He praised.  And in all he did, he sought to serve his Lord.

Bond’s deeply emotional attachment to Isaac Watts who was, in a sense, his spiritual father, makes this an unusual book.  He defends Watts against all accusations, whether contemporary or modern, and at the end of each chapter he draws out lessons for the reader from Watts’ life and experiences.  This could all be overwhelming, but because his love for Watts is so sincere, it only adds to the book.

I recommend The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts by Douglas Bond to any teen or adult who loves the hymns Watts wrote.  It will also appeal to those interested in church music, poetry, British church history, and Christian biographies.  I, myself, really appreciated learning how Watts saw Christ in all parts of the Bible and God in all parts of nature, and how he worked with words, rhymes, and rhythms to help others both see and feel the same.

This is yet another book in the in the 2015 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge and is also linked to Saturday Reviews, Booknificent Thursdays, Finishing Strong,Trivium Tuesdays.  For more encouragement, visit Coffee for Your Heart, Raising Homemakers, Titus 2 Tuesday, Works for Me Wednesday, Mom to Mom Monday, Monday’s Musings, Missional WeekendR&R Wednesdays, From House to Home, Homemaking Mondays, Good Morning Mondays, Make Your Home Sing Mondays, Faith Filled Fridays.

Disclosure: I receive a free review copy of this book from Reformation Trust Publishing.

Top Twenty Books for Families to Read Aloud

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Reading aloud is central to our family and our homeschool.  It helps form who we are now and who we will become.   It also teaches us about others and ourselves and, indeed, the world.  After almost 20 years of homeschooling—and a few more of reading aloud—we have a list of family favorites:

#1:  The Bible.  For all Christians this is our main source of all that is good.  Not quite, of course, because God is the source of all good, but this book shows us who he is and who we are and how he saved us and how we can be thankful for that.  It is eminently practical and we have no excuse for neglecting it.  However, in Canada at least, many Christians do.  If you are having a hard time reading your Bible regularly, here are some suggestions.  If you want to learn more about the story parts of the Bible, many excellent Bible narrative resources are available.

I’m sharing the rest of our favorites with one word:  Enjoy!

Heidi by Joanna Spyri.  The unabridged version of this story is a moving presentation of the gospel as well as a story of human joy and tragedy set in the majestic Alps.  I have read it aloud several times, and each time the children would clamor for more and I would sniffle and get teary-eyed.

Children of the New Forest by Captain Marryat. The first children’s novel written in English, this story of the English Civil War combines anything anyone could want in a story.  It is written from a Royalist point of view but presents the main characters on either side as reasonable people, not radicals.  I’ve read this book aloud three or four times; we can’t be sure because the children have reread it on their own as well.

All of the Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  I can’t even begin to imagine how many times we read this series out loud, and when I was too ill to read aloud we got the audio books from the library.  We even lost one of these books, I think Little House on Plum Creek, on the plane when we moved to Europe; it was the best reading we could imagine to while away the long travelling hours with our little ones.  If you’ve only watched the movies, you’ve missed so much, and so have your kids.

Peter Duck, We Never Meant to Go to Sea, and others by Arthur Ransome.  These are all boat stories with so much fun and excitement!  They are usually a blissful holiday, full of adventures of all sorts.  One afternoon I read the entire We Never Meant to Go to Sea, several hundred pages long, because the children begged me not to stop. I occasionally have some issues with the children’s attitudes in the Swallows and Amazons series, but it is nothing most children don’t encounter regularly.

Ralph Moody’s Little Britches Series.  Moving and illuminating stories of life in the Wild West and of settling back in the East, with one of the best main characters in children’s books.  These books are best read aloud because some of the colorful characters use colorful language that I prefer to skip.  Even so, these are some of the best books around.  They were too intense for my young ones the first time I read them, and at one point I think all of us cried.  The Little House on the Prairie series is more suitable for younger children.

Robin Hood by Howard Pyle.  Exceedingly exciting, overwhelmingly violent, and the most requested read aloud book for all my children. There’s something about a real hero, and standing up against injustice, and zany humor, and adults whacking each other with sticks that really appealed to my crew.   I’m not keen on violence, whatever the cause, so they only got me to read this book aloud about 4 times despite their pleading.  And I’m not allowed to read the sad ending in any version….

Milly-Molly-Mandy by Joyce Lankester Brisley is one of the most endearing books to share with little ones.  Cheerful, full of gentle humor and matter-of-fact history, and with one of fiction’s happiest little girls, this book deserves a place in every child’s heart.  My little ones identified with it; my older ones recognized their own past as well as their little siblings’ antics.

The Five Little Peppers and How they Grew by Margaret Sidney.  Every family should read this old-fashioned story together.  It’s full of real life, pathos, and the happiest optimism.  Two of my children mentioned that this book was near the top of their lists of favorites, and I love it too.

The Railway Children by Edith Nesbit.  A sad yet happy story full of goodness, truth, and irresistible characters getting into all sorts of fascinating situations.

Carry On Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham.  An inspiring biography of adventure, dedication, and determination with heroic characters.  Splendid!

Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl, a true, thrilling adventure that kept my crew on the edges of their chairs.   The beginning is a bit slow, but after that, wow!

The Little Duke or Richard the Fearless by Charlotte Yonge.  We have read this twice and it is superb.  Caution:  This true story does contain violence, but its overarching message is one of forgiveness.  

The Adventures of Reddy Fox and all others by Thornton W. Burgess. A delightful blend of fun, excitement, humor, and wisdom.  Reddy Fox and the other animals are so foolish and so familiar! I’ve enjoyed Burgess’s books since I was a little girl.

Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne.  Lots of wild excitement that could almost be true, and great characters.

The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss.  This adventure is full of all sorts of unit study possibilities, but it is best as a thrilling story to enjoy together.  We love it.

L’Abri by Edith Schaeffer.  Even though the end of this book is not as compelling as the rest, my children loved L’Abri.  Seeing how God answers prayer and guides a family that depends on him is every bit as exciting as the greatest fictional adventures.  I was surprised at how much my children enjoyed this book.

Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott.  This is the least smarmy of all of Alcott’s books with delightfully memorable characters.  Her other books are good too, but have a lot more explicit moralizing which I find difficult to read aloud and my kids find difficult to listen to.

Scout:  The Secret of the Swamp by Piet Prins.  A best-seller in its original Dutch, this novel tells the story of a boy and his dog during World War 2 in the Netherlands.  It is a thrilling story in which Christianity is assumed as a background for all that the characters do, say, and think.

Little Lord Fauntleroy by Frances Hodgson Burnett, a sweet rags-to-riches fairy tale of good overcoming evil.  It is the origin of my bedtime blessing to my children, “God keep you all night long.”

Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter.  Such optimism and fun!  Some consider it sentimental and naïve, but there’s a lot of wisdom, faith, and grit in being able to be thankful and positive in the face of tragedy.

In 2010 I listed our Top 10 Read Alouds while giving a Pep Talk about Reading Aloud; that list is almost identical to the current one.

You can see all our read alouds from 2011 to the present on these pages.

Note:  Some of these books are available free on Gutenburg and all of them should be available from libraries or interlibrary loan.   Of course, they are all definitely worth owning, but I know how limited bookshelf space can be.

This post is linked to 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge , Saturday Reviews, Booknificent Thursdays, The Book Nook, Raising Homemakers, Titus 2 Tuesday, Works for Me Wednesday, Mom to Mom Monday, Monday’s Musings, Missional WeekendR&R Wednesdays, From House to Home, Homemaking Mondays, Good Morning Mondays, Make Your Home Sing Mondays, Faith Filled Fridays.

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