Category Archives: Stories

“The Ambition: A Novel”

It feels good to get lost in a good book every now and then. To have the story sweep you up for so long that it’s hard to remember what day it is when you finally emerge from its pages.

Some might tell you that there is no place on a Christian’s nightstand for a work of fiction. Even Amy Carmichael, pioneer missionary and rescuer of children in India, adamantly said that her children had no need of stories that weren’t true.

There is something to be said for focusing on real-world writing that encourages us in our real-world living, but we can uphold the value of nonfiction books without discrediting fiction. After all, our own real-world stories are written by a magnificent Creator, and as we mirror His creativity, our own real-world life grows richer. Continue reading “The Ambition: A Novel”

My 7 Favorite Books of 2017

There will always be another book to read—a whole list of them, more likely. As 2017 wraps up (no Christmas pun intended), here are a few books I am grateful found their way into my list this year. Their reminders and encouragement and eye-opening chapters have shaped me in new ways, and I hope you find some of them as unforgettable as I did.

From Good to Grace

Christine Hoover

As a church planter’s wife, Christine Hoover is no stranger to feeling like “not enough.” No matter how hard she tried or how much she worked, there was always another need or another problem or another failure on her own part. Why couldn’t she do this Christian life thing? Why was it so hard to just…be perfect? Eventually, she came to realize what she shares with us: grace. As Christians, we stake our eternities on grace, receiving Christ’s sacrificial death in our place to remove the bondage of sin and death in our hearts. But once we go from unbelieving to saved and believing, we often—unintentionally—leave grace behind. We try to do the rest of it on our own, scheduling our devotional times and listing our plans of good works and hoping to do better tomorrow. But no matter what, we will never be enough in ourselves, and that’s okay! We have been given grace—Jesus is enough, and He has given His “enough” to us.

Read my review here.

A Good and Perfect Gift: Faith, Expectations, and a Little Girl Named Penny

Amy Julia Becker

To be honest, I can’t remember how I came across this book, but I’m so glad I did. Devout Christians and theological students, Amy Becker and her husband had dreams and plans for the family they were ready to start. But they quickly realized life wasn’t going to go the way they had planned when their first daughter, Penny, was born with Down syndrome. What about the perfect life they had envisioned? What about their faith? What about all the good things they had done? What about the future? Amy shares about those first few weeks and months with beautiful honesty, writing about her internal struggles in reconciling what she knew to be true with her new reality. In a world where babies with Down syndrome are aborted at a heart-wrenching rate, where a country without them celebrates its “success,” Becker’s story is a hopeful look into the questions and doubts that a parent can have in those early moments. Through it all, she brings her Christian faith heavily into her own wrestling, providing deeper insights and encouragement to share with others in similar places.

Continue reading My 7 Favorite Books of 2017

We All Do It

He shaded this tree with three shades of green. Last time he had only used two shades. Setting down his coloring pencil, he squinted at his paper. They would be so surprised. He smiled as he pictured it framed in his grandparents’ living room, then picked up one more shade of green. Real talent, Mrs. Ludstrom had said last week as she posted his latest work on the bulletin board.

“Hey, Matt.”

He looked up quickly. Two of the guys from seventh grade swaggered to his table and sat down. He watched them while quietly covering his drawing with his math book.

“Saw you in P.E. today,” one of the guys said. “That was a great three-pointer.”

“Um, thanks.” He wiped his hands on his pants. He wondered how long they would stay at his table.

“Maybe you could be on our team again next time,” the other guy said. It didn’t sound like a question.

“Yeah,” Matt said.

“If only we didn’t have to end that scrimmage game there,” the first guy said. “Stupid art class. We would have won if Mrs. Ludstrom wasn’t so picky about making us go color like preschoolers.”

Matt pushed the box of coloring pencils further into his backpack.

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Of all the days for her sister to cancel the playdate. Kelsie clicked her three-month-old’s carrier into place. “Sara, let’s buckle you in, honey,” she held apart the straps of her two-year-old’s carseat.

“Nope,” Sara insisted as she kept playing in the back of the van.

Kelsie tried logic. “Sara, we need to go get some food from the grocery store so we can eat dinner with Daddy tonight.”

Aa-roof!

Kelsie turned around just in time to see Baxter come jumping into the car. “Baxter, no!”

Aa-roof! The baby started crying.

Kelsie sighed. “Come here, boy,” she called to Baxter while the baby cried louder.

“Here’s your paci, Baby,” Kelsie heard her toddler say behind her while she wrestled Baxter to the backyard. So much for weaning him off that like Jenna suggested, Kelsie thought, remembering her friend’s cautions about pacifiers.

“Stay back here, crazy,” Kelsie shoved Baxter in and shut the gate. She hurried back to the van just as Sara dumped the diaper bag out on the van floor. “Sara, what are you doing?”

“Finding Noah’s paci,” Sara informed her.

“It’s right here by your foot. See, here? Okay, we’ll clean that up later. Let’s get in your carseat.”

“Nope.”

“Sara, we need to …”

Sara stood up to go back into the back of the van. Kelsie reached out just in time to grab her.

“NO!” Sara yelled, kicking her legs. Kelsie put her screaming daughter into her carseat. The baby’s paci fell out of his carseat and he started screaming again, too.

“Let’s sing a song for Noah,” Kelsie suggested as Sara kept yelling. “Twinkle, twinkle—” Her phone vibrated in her pocket. She pulled it out to see if her sister answered her text about childcare and saw a name: Rebecca Peters. Kelsie raised her eyebrows. No way, she thought. Mrs. Perfect does not need to hear this chorus right now.

Just as she started to cancel the call, Sara kicked again, knocking the phone out of her hand. “Sara!” Kelsie scolded. “You need to stop it right now.”

Sara crossed her arms and glared at Kelsie, but Kelsie had stopped caring—as long as a certain two-year-old quit kicking and screaming. She re-inserted Noah’s paci. “You can get out when we get to the store,” she told Sara firmly then picked up her phone and looked at the screen.

Oh, no! The clock was counting up—Sara’s kick had made her answer the call instead of decline it. Kelsie swallowed and wondered if she should hang up or not. Timidly she put the phone to her ear. Not knowing what else to say, she softly said, “Hello?”

“Oh, hi, Kelsie, how are you?” Rebecca asked smoothly.

“Good,” Kelsie answered and slammed the van’s sliding door. “We’re doing good,” Kelsie climbed into her seat, wondering what all Rebecca had heard. “How are you?” she mumbled.

“Oh, we’re doing wonderful. My kids and I have had so much fun this summer! Anyway, I was calling to see if you wanted to help us out with a thank-you project for the church staff…”

Kelsie rolled her eyes as she pulled her door shut. She put the key in the ignition as Rebecca droned on about the project. She would have backed out the driveway with the phone stuck to her ear, except two things happened at the same time.

The first thing Kelsie noticed was that Sara started kicking and screaming again. Then she looked up and saw her next-door neighbor standing on her driveway, holding Baxter by the collar.

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“And that’s where you’ll find me/Farther than I ever hoped to be.” She smiled as the last notes on the piano died away.

“Oh my goodness! That was so pretty!”

Erica smiled at the praise.

“You wrote that? That sounds like it could be on the radio.”

“Thanks, Ashley,” Erica said. She paused then grinned. “It would be fun to hear it on the radio.”

“I know, right?! Play another one.”

Erica looked at the ceiling while she thought. “Um, okay, there is this other one I really like, but it’s not quite finished yet. Tell me what you think,” she took her place at the piano bench again. Gently, she fingered the keys and began playing a melody. She took a deep breath to sing the first line.

“Hi, girls!”

Erica looked up. “Oh, hi, Chloe,” she said slowly.

“Hi!” Ashley grinned. “You should hear what Erica wrote—it’s amazing! Play the first one again, Erica.”

“Oh, I don’t have to play that. It’s really not that good. I know a lot of people who could do a lot better,” Erica started to get up from the piano.

“But you just said you wanted to hear it on the radio,” Ashley reminded her.

“I’d love to hear it,” Chloe added. “I heard you’re playing for church in a couple weeks.”

“Maybe,” Erica smiled and looked away.

“Come on, just do it,” Ashley said.

“Please?” Chloe asked.

Erica sighed and sat back down at the piano bench. She paused as she thought through the first few notes again. She looked down and noticed her hands were shaking.

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It almost seems that to be human is to be afraid of the opinions of others. How many of our decisions and thought processes are wrapped around what other people think of us—or what we are afraid they will think of us?

Stories like Kelsie’s and Matt’s and Erica’s feel familiar—because they are our stories, too. We relate to these and many similar predicaments we find ourselves in. Ever fumbled over someone’s name (or your own) during an introduction, or completely flop a handshake? Then think about it for hours and mentally replay what you wish you had done?

Why are we so afraid of each other?!? Do we realize how crazy it is that we give so much power to those who are human just like us?

Fear of people holds sway over most of us to some degree or another, and it has long directed much of my own life. Over the next few weeks I hope to explore this topic here on the blog—not as someone who has conquered and moved on from this fear, but as a traveler working through it. May we all find something to encourage us in leaving these silly fears behind. Come join me! See you here next Tuesday – or you can sign up for updates and new content will land in your inbox as it is posted.

There is no reason to be afraid. Not anymore.

“A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War”

I have always been interested in World War II. The clear line between good and evil, the many stories of heroism, even by people who seemed so normal and ordinary before the demands of war loomed over them. There is just something epic and heroic about it.

Despite that interest, I have never really cared to learn about World War I. The endless, pointless trenches, the deadlocked armies with no real cause, the victory that only spurned another international war less than twenty years later. I never really understood any of it.

According to Joseph Loconte, however, two incredible literary masterpieces were influenced by the horror and meaninglessness of WWI. It was during the horrendous conflict of World War I that two writers were shaped for their future classics, and without their wartime experiences, we may never have known and loved their works.

A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War opens with a description of WWI that is hard to imagine—and stomach. The early 1900s were a time of extreme optimism in the Western world, as the general opinion was that mankind was improving and socially evolving to a higher being. Many actually promoted war as a short and effective force of change. Needed change, the progressive minds thought. This change involved finding higher and better answers to questions of life, origin, and God—and, therefore, morality.

It was also a time of technological advances. Factories sprang up, and cities around those factories. More could be made with less time, effort, or money, and a whole generation had more time on their hands. Countries now had access to factory-produced, higher-grade firepower in more quantities than at any other time before.

Philosophy and technology had combined in a deadly way, and WWI would decimate an entire generation. “Between 1920 and 1923, Britain delivered four thousand headstones a week to France” Loconte writes. Millions died—and even more millions were injured. “In France, the casualty rate (dead or wounded) was an astonishing 75 percent.” The day’s belief in human progress had been shattered by the bitter reality of death rates and irreversible injuries.

In its place it left a gaping hole, experienced as despair by veterans and grieving loved ones alike. The loss and disillusion shook many who had been so confident.

But it was in that despair that C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien found a hope that can meet any hopelessness.

Throughout the pages of A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War, Loconte shows examples from Lewis’ and Tolkien’s works that illustrate how WWI affected them. We see their love for nature (in defiance of industrialization), their love for simplicity (over technology), and, overall, their still-standing faith when it seemed the rest of the world had lost theirs. We are given glimpses into Lewis’ spiritual wrestling and conversion, impacted in no small way by WWI and Tolkien.

In that searching they found a hope that is bigger than world wars and unmeasurable tragedies, and a foundation that stood firm no matter what headlines tried to shake it.

With over 600 footnotes for about 200 pages, Loconte’s work is researched to the extreme. The quotations from Lewis’ and Tolkien’s writings—both their books and their letters—give a deeper insight to the works that have been loved by so many.

“All the horrors of all the ages were brought together,” Winston Churchill said of the Great War. Lewis and Tolkien found hope that withstood the horror, and they decided to share it with others. By probing for their thoughts and documenting the worldview depth behind their works, Loconte has further shown that faith to us.

My 7 Most Memorable Books of 2016

It’s that time of year. Resolutions, goals, recounting memories of joys and sorrows. It is a time for measuring and appraising the year that has passed and looking into the still-opening year that has come. For me, 2016 was a year of more reading and now seems like a good time to memorialize my favorite books from last year.

The books I share here may or may not have been written in 2016 – in fact, I think most of them were written earlier. I read them during 2016, however, so here is where I thought I’d share my 5 favorite books from the past year.

But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t narrow it down to 5.

So, should you care to know, here are my SEVEN favorite books of 2016. With a couple of runners-up at the end, because even seven was hard. Oh, and in alphabetical order, because order of significance would be really hard.

They were all significant. All engaging. And they all shared stories now impressed on my heart.

Bruchko: The Astonishing True Story of a 19-Year-Old American, His Capture by the Motilone Indians and His Adventures in Christianizing the Stone Age Tribe

Bruce Olson

How’s that for a title?

Most people who strike out on their own at 19 are a little reckless. If they do so in a foreign country with no job, connections, money, or language skills, they’re really crazy.

Bruce was really crazy. But the story that came from his total obedience in 1961 is unlike any other. Through the decades that followed, God guided his ministry and many people came to Christ through his work.

The Drop Box: How 500 Abandoned Babies, an Act of Compassion, and a Movie Changed My Life Forever

Brian Ivie

I wish everyone I know could read this book! A few years ago, I watched Brian Ivie’s documentary (also called The Drop Box) about a Korean pastor raising abandoned orphans with special needs as his own children. Now Brian tells the rest of the story—and there is so much more to it! In these pages that draw you in chapter after chapter, Brian tells more of Pastor Lee’s life, and how it impacted his own more than he ever expected.

See my review here.

Eight Twenty Eight: When Love Didn’t Give Up

Ian and Larissa Murphy

So…if I had to pick just one…this might be it. Maybe. So hard to choose…

Ian and Larissa’s story of love and commitment (and weakness and doubt) in the face of debilitating and permanent disability is not one to miss. Larissa’s revealing honesty and powerful writing style made an already fascinating story impossible for me to put down.

See my review here.

Hiding in the Light: Why I Risked Everything to Leave Islam and Follow Jesus

Rifqa Bary

I remember seeing the drama unfold on TV, as a Christian teenager fought in court for asylum from her Muslim parents. Her story of persecution while in her American home was shocking, and the jaw-dropping story of her escape shows God’s guidance more clearly than most of us ever see.

See my review here.

In My Father’s House: The Years Before “The Hiding Place”

Corrie ten Boom

It just wouldn’t be a list of my favorite books without a Corrie ten Boom title! Corrie wrote IMFH as a series of seemingly isolated stories from the years before World War II and The Hiding Place. But as she tells her stories, we find—at her guidance—that there is no stand-alone chapter in our lives. Everything we ever experience prepares us for the next twist in our stories.

See my review here.

Messy Grace: How a Pastor with Gay Parents Learned to Love Others Without Sacrificing Conviction

Caleb Kaltenbach

Homosexuality has quickly become a hot button issue. We can’t ignore it. How do we respond? Caleb gives a loving and deeply personal account of honoring his gay parents while also remaining steadfast to biblical truth. It is possible. Caleb tells us how.

The Undoing of Saint Silvanus

Beth Moore

This one barely counted for this list, as I finished it just a few hours before the clock and the calendar heralded the arrival of 2017.  Beth Moore has written countless Bible studies and nonfiction books, but jumped into a fiction project for the first time with Silvanus. While the first several chapters seemed to move slowly to me, I am so glad I didn’t close the book. The rich characters and complicated, action-packed plot wouldn’t let me do anything else until I read the last page. Enjoying a story that gripping was fun. Knowing that it had deeper meaning and spiritual significance made it even better.

Runners-up: Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World (Michael Horton); The Accidental Feminist: Restoring Our Delight in God’s Good Design (Courtney Reissig; A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-1918 (Joseph Loconte); and The Stories We Tell: How TV and Movies Long for and Echo the Truth (Mike Cosper).

 

There you have it! My favorites from the last twelve months. What books made you glad you cracked their covers this past year? Please do share!