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Marriage

Is the Proverbs 31 wife an unrealistic supermom?

In his article "On being a Titus 2 young woman" Rev. Bouwman made a statement that likely had some readers blinking in surprise. He said of the Proverbs 31 woman:

"This woman is not the proverbial 'super-mom' but simply a God-fearing woman..."

Not a super-mom? Simply a God-fearing woman? Really? That runs counter to the popular understanding of her as so pure, so selfless, so hard-working as to be a completely unrealistic example of what godly womanhood looks like. Sure, it'd be great to be like her, but then again it'd be great to be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. But is either goal attainable? So who has it right? Is this woman simply unreal, or "simply a God-fearing woman?" To find an answer it will be helpful to grab our Bibles, turn to Proverbs 31 and then look at the passage in a more modern light. We could ask, "What would the Proverbs 31 wife be up to if she was around today?" and update the many tasks she takes on. If we do that, then what we find is a wife: who has her husband's trust at home and in business matters too (vs. 11,16) who honors that trust (vs. 12) who knows how to use a sewing machine (vs. 13) who makes regular trips to Safeway and Costco (vs. 14) who rises each morning, and before her kids are even awake, making their lunches and getting breakfast ready (vs. 15) who has arms grown strong from scrubbing pots, cleaning floors and hauling her children in and out of car seats (vs. 17) who has her own Etsy store, selling good she makes in the evenings (vs. 18-19,24) who makes meals for those in need and, after her kids were all in school, began volunteering at the local crisis pregnancy clinic (vs. 20) who finds good clothing for her family, for every season, and who dresses herself attractively (vs. 21-22) whose her hard work makes it possible for her husband to have the time to be an elder or deacon (vs. 23) who is wise, and confident about the future because she recognizes God is in control; and she is able to share her wisdom with others over coffee (vs. 25-26) who manages her household and doesn't spend her afternoons watching the soaps (vs. 27) whose children and husband can't contain their pride in her (vs. 28-29) who is praised not for how she looks, but for the God-fearing woman she is (vs. 30-31) This is certainly a remarkable woman. But doesn't she sound familiar? Isn't this someone you know? While this woman is amazing, we shouldn't dismiss her as unrealistic. That would be a mistake for two reasons. First, because it would be ignoring the God-pleasing example He outlines here – this is an example given precisely for instruction. That Christian women will regularly fall short of this standard doesn't mean it can be ignored. It only means that they – like their husbands – need to regularly go to God in repentance, and ask Him to continue to mold them and shape them to better take on the good works He has laid out for them to do. And, second, dismissing the Proverbs 31 woman as unrealistic would be to overlook what God has given us in the many women we know who bear a striking resemblance to the woman of this passage. As we read in verse 10, their worth is far beyond jewels! So we should never overlook the enormity of the blessing God has given us in these women!

Jon Dykstra is the father of three and the husband of one, who is worth far more than jewels.

Marriage

The surprising secrets of highly happy marriages

What research and the Bible say about the best marriages **** Marriage is meant to mirror Christ and the church. One can scarcely imagine a higher calling than this, yet all marriages fall far short of the ideal. Thus we not only misrepresent Christ and the church but also experience sadness and disappointment. As we all know, the Bible has quite a few things to say about marriage. Unfortunately, both the secular culture and much of the Christian culture read the relevant passages through ideological glasses. This leads to endless controversy but brings about very little improvement to marriages. Shaunti Feldhahn’s book, The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages: The Little Things that Make a Big Difference, is a refreshing addition to the conversation. Feldhahn does not offer yet another opinion on what the Bible says but instead gives a research-based answer: this is what has been shown to work – try it. Not surprisingly, the results of her research mirror what the Bible says. WHAT HAPPY COUPLES DO DIFFERENTLY Feldhahn and her team, experienced researchers, studied almost 1,000 people, both Christians and non-Christians, to understand what the happiest couples did differently. The research showed that there are many “learnable” things that can make a big difference in a marriage, regardless of other challenges a couple may be facing. In other words, by learning what the happiest couples do, those in moderately happy or struggling marriages can improve their own relationships, although the most troubled couples will likely need other help besides this book. Before we act on anyone’s suggestions about anything, we need to verify that they agree with the Bible. Thus this discussion of Feldhahn’s research results also notes how, as expected, the truth about the happiest couples is in line with biblical principles and admonitions. First of all, “A handful of simple day-to-day actions increases the likelihood that our spouse feels that we care deeply about them, instead of feeling that we don’t.” These are little things, so seemingly insignificant that people are tempted to shrug them off, but people who adopt them will have a big impact on their spouse’s happiness. A man tends to be happier if his wife: Notices his effort and sincerely thanks him for it. Says you did a great job at_______. Mentions in front of others something he did well. Shows that she desires him sexually and that he pleases her sexually. Makes it clear to him that he makes her happy. A woman tends to be happier if her husband: Holds her hand. Leaves her a message during the day to say he loves and is thinking about her. Puts his arm around her or lays his hand on her knee when they are sitting next to each other in public. Tells her sincerely, “You are beautiful.” Pulls himself out of a funk when he’s morose, grumpy, or upset about something instead of withdrawing. From a biblical point of view, it is not at all surprising that these powerful, gender-specific actions involve respect, appreciation, kindness, and caring. The happiest couples have also discovered other individual little things that make their spouse feel loved. Usually what matters to men are things that make them feel appreciated, and what matters to women are actions that communicate, “I care about what matters to you.” From a practical point of view, these things are simple, learnable, and doable and have a huge impact on marriages because they communicate care in a way the other person values. Believing that your spouse cares about you changes everything. It turns out that over 95% of people, even in difficult marriages, sincerely care about their spouse and want the best for them. However, in struggling marriages almost half think that their spouse does not care about them. Feldhahn’s research shows that this is flat wrong. As mentioned above, there are things we can do to help our spouse believe they are cared for. On the other hand, spouses also need to choose to believe the best about each other — that our spouse does care and that when they cause hurt it is unintentional. We need to choose to bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things, and to think about things that are true and honorable. A worthwhile sentence to ponder is, “He/she must not have known how that would make me feel, or he/she wouldn’t have done it.” The research shows this is almost always true. EPH. 4:26: “DO NOT LET THE SUN GO DOWN ON YOUR ANGER…” Another research result, surprising to Feldhahn who is a Christian, is that while many think the Bible instructs us not to go to bed mad, the happiest couples often do. Rather than staying up, exhausted, debating until they agree on a topic, they reconnect (i.e. assure each other that the relationship is okay even if they still disagree), put the issue aside until the morning, and go to bed. A careful reading shows that the biblical principle in Eph. 4:26 isn’t about delaying bedtime, but involves not allowing anger to drag on. This principle is part of the lifestyle of the happiest couples, whether they are Christian or not. Emotional reconnection, often a personal bit of sign language, needs to be both initiated and accepted, something that very happy spouses excel at but struggling spouses do not practice. 1 COR. 13:5 “LOVE…KEEPS NO RECORD OF WRONGS” In unhappy marriages, spouses tend to keep score of the bad things the other person does and the good things they themselves do. The happiest couples keep score, too, but differently. They focus on the good things the other person does and intentionally show gratitude. They also notice and express more kindness, admiration, respect, and forgiveness. Closely related is that the happiest couples actively work to change their negative feelings and responses. This countercultural idea of replacing unhappy or angry thoughts and actions with positive ones, instead of venting, has an enormous impact on marital happiness. The research is simple: Stop focusing on, thinking about, or speaking about what irritates you; rather, honor the other person in your thinking and base your responses on that instead. In fact, if you do and think what is right instead of what you feel like, then your feelings will change. Or in the words of a happy couple, “We have found that when we act loving, then eventually, wow, we are loving!” The happiest couples not only adjust their attitudes, feelings, and opinions, but also adapt their expectations of each other. A clear factor in unhappy marriages is a longing for the other spouse to be or do something that they find difficult or impossible. The happiest spouses, on the other hand, are grateful for the ways their spouse is able to meet their needs and do not ask for the impossible. In other words, they do not tell themselves, “If he/she really loved me, he/she would_____.” Closely tied to this, happy couples tell each other what they need, but struggling couples assume the other person can, and should, figure this out on their own. TOGETHER TIME Research shows that “Not only do happy couples spend time together because they are happy; a big part of the reason they are so happy is that they are spending time together.” They prioritize hanging out together and doing things together even during seasons of travel, busyness, or marital difficulty. What does this look like? It can involve romantic dinners, but more often it’s something simpler, like going for a walk, watching the kids play sports, or carving time out of a busy schedule just to be together. The happiest couples all see the other person as their best and closest friend, a friend they want to stay close to no matter what, and their actions reflect that. Finally, the happiest couples are kind, gentle, and self-controlled in how they talk to each other. Yes, they bring up all sorts of topics and they are honest with each other, but they do so without disrespect and they carefully avoid hurting each other. What’s more, they are at least as considerate in private as in public. “If you wouldn’t say it that way to a close friend, don’t say it that way to your spouse,” seems to sum it up. MANY OF THE HAPPIEST COUPLES ARE CHRISTIAN Feldhahn found that the happiest couples focus on something greater than their marriages and that many of them are Christian. In fact, couples who agree that “God is at the center of our marriage” are twice as likely to report that they are very happy than others. Many of the happiest couples worship together, share key values, focus on serving their spouses instead of being served, look to God for power to be selfless, and trust God for the outcome. They emphasize they do not look to marriage for fulfillment and meaning, but to God. The happiest couples are fully invested in their marriage and do not hold back emotionally, financially, or in other unhealthy ways. They do not have a secret stash of money “just in case,” they are open with each other, they trust each other, and they work at their marriage. In biblical words, they act as though they are one, even though the world says that is a dangerous thing to do. In most highly happy marriages, each spouse credits the other for the happiness in their marriage, “and they live in regular, conscious gratitude as a result.” They are amazed that things are so good, as this one quote from a grateful wife sums up, “The fact that I get to live with him over the course of my lifetime is one of the biggest scams I’ve pulled off.” Many spouses feel this way, but the happiest ones make a conscious effort to let the other person know. So, in a general overview, what do the research results suggest? Although Feldhahn does not discuss this, the happiest couples tend to be the ones who live according to biblical principles. They accept the fact that marriage means oneness and that divorce is not an option. They aim to show gratitude, kindness, respect, and consideration. They accept the biblical view that feelings are not the standard by which they must operate but rather adjust their feelings by adjusting their thoughts and actions. They do not expect happiness and meaning from their spouse but look to God instead. Conversely, research suggests that struggling couples are much more likely to be self-centered, seek meaning in their spouse or marriage, have unrealistic expectations, hold back, criticize, avoid each other, be nicer in public than private, and be negative. THE CHANGES ARE SIMPLE The good news in Feldhahn’s research is that, once people know what behaviors and attitudes are good for a marriage, once they understand how biblical principles apply, they can make an effort to change. They are no longer left wishing they knew what to do in practical, everyday terms. Now they know. What’s more, it turns out that even if only one person commits to change, the marriage will benefit. Feldhahn gives ten suggestions for implementing her research results, but the basics are simple: Rely on God, build only one or two new habits at a time, and set up daily reminders so you won’t forget them. Above all, be grateful for success and patient with setbacks; in this broken world learning godly habits and attitudes is no easy matter. How does this all apply to those who are not merely hoping to improve a good marriage but are struggling in a very difficult one? Struggling couples and those who help them can find hope in the statistics shown in the sidebar, especially #4 which emphasizes that these principles of a happy marriage are simple and can be learned. It may also help to note #2, that many of the happiest couples in Feldhahn’s research were deeply unhappy before they learned how marriage works. THE CHANGES ARE HARD Do note that, although the principles suggested by the research are simple, they are not easy for anyone, whether happily married or struggling, to apply. Change is never easy, nor are repentance, apologies, and forgiveness. The research reminds us that a good marriage requires the fruit of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We not only need to pray for the fruit of the Spirit, but we also need to make every effort to add virtue, godliness, self-control, affection, and more to our faith. In other words, we need to live close to God and humbly immerse ourselves in his wisdom instead of the world’s. This, one of the blessings of marriage, brings us closer to God as we seek to understand how He wants us to live with the spouse He has graciously given us. Although all of this is a work of the Holy Spirit, it also involves our deliberate, thoughtful effort, and in the case of struggling couples, it may require outside help. Our marriages are important and we need to obey God in them. Feldhahn’s research, reflecting the Bible, helps us make wise daily choices about our attitudes and actions that will simultaneously enhance our representation of Christ and the church and increase the joy in our marriages. May God bless us all as we strive to have better marriages to his glory and for the benefit of our spouses, children, churches, and communities. For a thorough explanation of Feldhahn’s research and results, please read her book “The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages.” For those who wish to work through these ideas systematically, some very helpful worksheets, great for thinking this through on your own, or with your spouse, are available here at AnnieKatesHomeschoolReviews.com....

Marriage

Complementarianism vs. Egalitarianism: there aren’t just the two positions

As my wife and I have been facing big decisions over the last few months, it’s been neat to see the way God has transformed our marriage from its fledgling stages to something a little more beautiful. It’s also got me thinking about the whole complementarian/egalitarian debate, and how my views over the years – though still complementarian – have shifted from a kind of misogynistic immaturity to what my wife and I both perceive to be a more Christ-like model. It’s made me realize there aren’t just two positions on this: egalitarianism and complementarianism – and when people are arguing against one or the other, they’re normally arguing against a flawed diversion, rather than the real thing. That being said, let me lay out a few different options. MISOGYNY: The husband asserts his desires, the wife submits. Though this is what chiefly comes to mind to those in the egalitarian camp, this is the furthest thing from the biblical picture of complementarianism possible. Unfortunately many, wounded from a history of misogyny, reject all hierarchy within families whole-sale based on their experience. If I’m honest, both my wife and I came into marriage with a subconscious commitment to this kind of relationship, and the results were not only personally devastating, but anti-gospel. Jesus never asserts his personal desires over and above his bride. MATRIARCHY: The wife asserts her desires, the husband submits.  Though I doubt any would publicly subscribe to this, it is, unfortunately, a settled pattern in many Christian homes. In this model, the husband mistakes weakness for meekness and, rather than honoring his wife, becomes bitter and distant (in effect dishonoring her). Jesus was not weak, he was meek – he asserted his bride’s good, he didn’t passively give into it. PRAGMATISM: We both assert our desires, and we both win. The reason this sounds so ideal is that it is so idealistic. The truth is, we don’t have the time, energy and resources to try and make “win-wins” out of every minute situation in life. Nor, I might add, does this sound much like the Christ who called us to marriage. Jesus didn’t come to earth saying: “You get what you can out of this, and I’ll get what I can.” Pragmatism (a focus on what works), is a denial of the purpose of marriage – the point of marriage is not to do the greatest good to the greatest number (both of us, in this case), but to assert the image of Christ and the church to a watching world (Ephesians 5:23). So “work”, in this case, is contingent upon a definition of marriage’s purpose which goes little beyond realizing my own, personal desires. Besides, if “work” means, “does what it’s meant to do,” then pragmatism, in that sense, doesn’t “work.” NAIEVETY: We’ll never disagree.  Point 1: Okay, sure. Point 2: Jesus called us to be peacemakers, and that in the church. This assumes there will be conflict, and it assumes a non-passive approach. We’re not called to be peace keepers, but makers, meaning: we have work to do. A quick read through the New Testament ought to wash us clean of this one. Jesus had (has) conflict with his bride, and he’s perfect. So, to put it strangely – if there’s no conflict, something’s wrong. DEMOCRACY: We both assert our desires, and someone wins. The truth will out, is the thought here. Except, there’s no real “truth” to whether we ought to go out for ice-cream or pizza. No argument can solve it. There’s no “right” answer to whether we should move to California or Timbuktu – these are morally neutral issues. In fact, let me be controversial: there’s no real truth as to whether the house should be clean or messy. We attach virtues to these things because we inherently view our personalities like good Pharisees – we make rules from them, and work outward. Besides, this looks nothing like Christ and the church. Notice I’m not saying that we shouldn’t communicate our desires to one another: communicating our vulnerability is actually an investment, not a withdrawal. It’s a compliment to say, “I need you.” But saying, “Therefore, you must do this” is patently wrong on every account.  COLDNESS: Neither of us assert our desires, and no one submits. Clearly, when you’ve reached this point, there’s bitterness and the whole operation’s gone amuck. Jesus communicates his desires toward us, and he invites us to communicate our desires to him. So – this is radically anti-gospel as well. This is a roommate scenario, not a Song of Solomon one. ABSURDITY: Both of us assert the others’ desire, and no one submits. This is the closest to true complementarianism, but its only flaw is that it’s absurd. I believe it is in The Four Loves that C.S. Lewis points out that two people sitting at a dining table insisting that they pour the others’ tea has less to do with love and more to do with absurd false-humility. The beautiful thing about complementarianism is that it’s just like this, without the absurdity, which leads us to… COMPLEMENTARY: Both of us assert the others’ desire, and the wife submits.  In a recent decision my wife and I made, it became clear that our desires were in conflict. The position being offered to us would have been a wonderful fit for one of us, and a terrible fit for the other. Sparing you the details, it became evident to both of us the beautiful irony of the situation: my wife was insisting that we do things my way. And I was insisting we do things in a way that was best for her. And because we are complementation, I “won out” in the end: I asserted her desires over mine. That is a long and winding journey, but I think it’s good for many of us to hear, on every side of the debate. While we think we may be in one camp, we may actually be in some permutation of it that is actually unrecognizable from its original intent. The truth is, the real model is like two people leaning toward one another for balance – it’s a total act of trust on both parts, and it requires an “all in” approach, not something half-baked. But when we both lean in – curiously – it forms something like a steeple. Nicholas McDonald blogs at ScribblePreach.com where this article was first posted. It is reprinted here with permission.  ...

Marriage

Men and the Marriage Dance

Maybe I have been looking in all the wrong places, but in my ten years of being a Christian, I seem to have heard an awful lot more on the subject of wives being in subjection to their husbands than I have on the subject of husbands loving their wives. In the interests of redressing the balance, I wish to focus on the other side of the marriage bond. Love before submission One of the first things to notice about Paul’s teaching on marriage is that although he mentions wives before husbands in both the Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3 passages, the onus is clearly on the men to act first. Husbands are told to: ...love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her (Eph. 5:25). Elsewhere in Scripture we are explicitly told the order of Christ/church relations: “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). So if the husband/wife relationship is to look anything like the Christ/church relationship, it is very much the responsibility of the husband to first ensure he is loving his wife before he starts worrying about whether his wife is submitting to him. Sacrificial headship In Ephesians 5:22-24 we read a passage that many a man loves for all the wrong reasons.  Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. Some husbands, while properly recognizing that this passage is about headship, conveniently ignore the fact that it is about sacrificial headship. Their thinking goes something like this: “Christ commands his church, right? And his church is meant to be in subjection, right? That’s what Paul says, isn’t it? So if the marriage relationship is meant to be like the relationship between Christ and his church, then clearly I get to decide everything and you must obediently follow.” There are two big problems with this type of blockhead masculinity. The first is that although Christ commands His church and His church is called upon to submit to Him, He commands her as a sinless, spotless head. Which means that all of his commands are made in love, righteousness, and truth, and that nothing he has commanded to his church is dictatorial, and that nothing he asks his bride to do is necessarily grievous. Sure, the church disobeys and acts like these things are grievous, but that is because the church is stuffed with sinners, not because her Husband is in the wrong. The second big problem with this way of thinking, is that even Christ – though He had every right to just command and expect submission – had to die sacrificially in order to win His bride. His headship is not one of mere headship – I command and you obey – but rather a headship that is born of giving Himself, at great personal cost, for the bride that He loves. Any husband who just commands and expects submission is therefore wronging his wife in expecting her to obey whilst he himself fails to obey the command directed to him. He is failing to understand the import of Paul’s command, which is not to just assume headship, but to assume it in a self-denying and sacrificial way. Four different dances I tend to think that what Paul has in mind is something akin to a dance. Now in any really good male/female dance that I’ve ever seen, the man leads and the woman follows. Yet the man does so in a way which is firm and masculine, rather than authoritarian, and the woman follows in a way that is neither overbearing on the one hand nor a pushover on the other, but rather firm in a feminine way. But let’s just play around with this analogy and see what happens when we add various factors into it. Picture the scene: a husband and wife are about to begin a dance upon a high stage with no barriers surrounding it, set to a Strauss waltz. 1) The modern couple Now into this scene steps the modern couple. The way they do this “marriage dance” looks, shall we say, a little different to what Paul had in mind. Instead of a graceful scene of husband and wife dancing in unison, with the man gently but firmly leading his wife while she gracefully and willingly accompanies him, many modern marriages look like the two spouses just doing their own thing on separate corners of the stage. Maybe he’s making one last attempt over here to perfect his breakdance technique before middle-age sets in, while she’s over there doing her twerking thing. The two of them are utterly independent of each other, and it is no surprise when they split, citing irreconcilable differences. And poor Strauss carries on in the background, treated in much the same way as that beautiful gold ring on the end of the pig’s snout. 2) The feminist dance Then there is the feminist dance. You know, where the powerhouse woman tries to lead the man around and he either willingly submits and the dance ends up looking plain silly, or he resists and they end up pushing each other over the edge. 3) The apathetics Or there is dance of the “apathetics.” This is where the performers are so floppy and without backbone, especially the man, that you wonder whether they are actually trying to dance or to do a distinctly underwhelming impression of two octopi skulking across the sea bed. 4) The cro-magnon But what of the over-bearing, authoritarian, she-ought-to-submit-to-me-because-that’s-what-Paul-says dance couple? What does their dance look like? It looks like a man dragging his wife rather than leading her, and then when he starts veering too far toward the edge of the stage and his wife tries to pull him back from the brink, he gets mad, accuses her of not being submissive, and carries on doing his thing until they both fall over the edge. Such a guy thinks he’s doing what God commands, yet is in far more danger of disobeying Paul than his wife is. The dance done right So what will the kind of dance envisaged by Paul really look like? As with a beautiful waltz to a bit of Strauss, it will look like the man leading his bride gracefully but firmly around the stage, with his wife gladly following his lead. It will look like him making sure he does nothing to grieve her or put either her or the both of them in jeopardy. So he will not only be aware of his steps, but will be aware of her steps too, and of both their steps together. If he happens to wander too near the edge and his wife gently pulls him back, he will not accuse her of being unsubmissive, but rather will accept the reproof and adjust his ways accordingly. In practical terms, there is no thought in this type of dance of a man commanding his wife regardless of her feelings and opinions, and her being expected to just submit to everything he says. Rather the thought is that the kind of man Paul is thinking of will always take his wife’s desires and opinions into account. If there is disagreement about a decision that needs to be taken, yes it is ultimately the man who is called upon to make that decision and the wife who is called upon to submit. But if the man has not first spoken to his wife, sought her opinion, taken it into account, considered whether maybe she is right and he wrong and that perhaps he needs to die to self before making the decision – unless he has gone through those steps – he is not leading his wife in the dance the way Paul says he ought. Conclusion Now, this piece doesn’t address difficulties and problems, such as, “what if a woman is married to a husband who is a blockhead. How far should she go in obeying him?” That’s really not an easy question. Suffice it to say that when Paul teaches headship in Colossians 3, his command for wives to “submit to your own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord” suggests that this is by no means an open check, and that there are limits to her submission, as when Abigail didn’t just go along with her fool of a husband, Nabal. However, difficult as these questions are, a good place to start in addressing such issues would be for more and clearer teaching on the role of men. This is the surest way of warding off problems and creating the beautiful marriage dance envisaged by Jesus Christ, the true sacrificial head. “So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself” (Ephesians 5:28). Rob Slane is the author of “A Christian & an Unbeliever Discuss: Life, the Universe & Everything” which is available at Amazon.ca here and Amazon.com here.  ...