Category Archives: Stories

“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!

“Eight Twenty Eight: When Love Didn’t Give Up”

eighttwentyeightIn May 2012, a video of an outdoor wedding started showing up in my Facebook feed. Bridesmaids bearing flowers and wearing cowgirl boots, young families juggling children, ladies turning around to find a glimpse of the bride. She came down the aisle—in her own cowgirl boots—while leaning on her daddy’s arm. Just like any other wedding. Except for maybe the cowgirl boots.

But there was something different. A few years earlier, her groom had survived a car accident—barely, and after months in the hospital, he reemerged into normal life anything but normal. Their new reality included his severe brain injury that never took a break and therapy that never seemed to be enough. Even at their wedding ceremony, it took the bride and a groomsman to help the groom up on his feet.

Ian and Larissa’s wedding video, produced by Desiring God, has been viewed over 1 million times.   But a common drawback of viral videos held true for this one, too: you can’t tell the whole story in 9 minutes.

So Larissa wrote it down.

Continue reading “Eight Twenty Eight: When Love Didn’t Give Up”

Why I Started Reading Again

 

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As a preteen I spent hours in other worlds. When Dad came home from work, he always knew where to find me. I devoured countless Boxcar Kids or Mandie adventures and read more than a few books from historical fiction series while I was totally oblivious to anything else going on in the house. I traveled the world with homeschooler Hope Brown and solved mysteries with the renowned (but unrelated) Encyclopedia Brown.

While in high school and college I read for schoolwork but less and less for my own interests. When I did choose a book for my personal reading, it was usually a book I thought I *should* read but didn’t necessarily enjoy, and eventually it was too obvious to deny: I had lost my love for reading.

Once I graduated, my lack of reading habits continued until I realized how much of my “reading” was done on social media. Which doesn’t really count, if you’re wondering.

So I started again. Slowly at first, but my habits have grown stronger and more entrenched. I have a couple of books going at the same time, and more than once recently I’ve stayed up late because the words on the page won out over sleep. Some books are still more educational and less thrilling than others, but that’s okay. Some books are like that.

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Why do we read? Why is it important to have an established pattern of reading? Books have been written on that. But I haven’t read them yet, so I can’t give you the official answers.

What I can do is tell you my reasons for reading again, and how books have persuaded me to spend time on them. Your reasons are probably different, and that’s okay, too. There are lots of reasons. Comment and tell me yours!

I need encouragement for the issues and struggles I face.

I know I have a problem with seeking after the approval of others. But I’m not the only one. So do Edward Welch (When People are Big and God is Small) and Lecrae (Unashamed). Maybe someone struggles with idolizing entertainment. So did Brian Ivie (The Drop Box). As humans, we will probably be able to identify with many different struggles and problems on different levels, and even if a particular story doesn’t mirror our own at all, we can still glean truth from it. And that truth will be ready and available when we need to apply it to our own lives or guide us in the way we relate to others who may have similar struggles.

I don’t have enough time.

Life is short. Our years go by so quickly and are full of responsibilities and tasks we can’t leave off, which means many things maybe we’d like to do have to go undone. I don’t have time to do it all, but I can live vicariously through others who have done things I haven’t, like Eric Alexander, who climbed Mt. Everest (The Summit).

I can sort through textbooks and college-level classes to form my own opinions on big issues, or I can read the book of someone who already did that and recorded their own experiences in a way I understand. Most political figures have written their memoirs, and many in other professions have as well. Excuse me while I go visit Laura Bush in Spoken from the Heart.

 

Okay, I’m back now. But seriously, life is too busy for me to do all the things I’d like to, and FOMO may be all the rage but it is frustrating, too.

I can’t do it all myself. I shouldn’t even try.

I have a limited perspective.

While there are some things I can’t do for lack of time, there are plenty more I literally can’t experience, because I wasn’t raised in Islam (Hiding in the Light, Rifqa Bary), confronted by Nazi soldiers (The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom), or born with a severe disability (Life Without Limits, Nic Vujicic). By reading others’ unique stories, I gain an insight into my own that I wouldn’t have had without their perspectives.

I have been given so much–and I forget to appreciate it.

I used to misunderstand fiction. I read in a biography (back when I was still reading the first time) about a missionary who disdained fiction because she didn’t want to tell children in her charge anything untrue. That resonated with me, and I held it as my unofficial position for years.

But do we really want to do away with stories? No more movies or those read-alouds I loved growing up? What about The Chronicles of Narnia?

There is power in stories. Good stories show us beauty and specialness in life, and bring us to a deeper understanding of ourselves by watching characters we love.

Again, fiction is powerful, and it can be negative just as easily as positive. Even easier, probably. I think we need more discernment in fiction books over nonfiction due to their power and the freedom authors have in creating their fictional worlds. But with that said, I have come back to loving stories again—both true and untrue. And one of these days I’m going to attempt LOTR.

So there you go. We are busy. We have much to do, and reading can be hard to fit into already overflowing schedules. But there’s one more thing I’ve learned about that.

Time can be found and redeemed.

We may be surprised how much time we spend doing not really anything at all, and reading can give greater return for that time than scrolling Facebook or even catching up on the headlines (really, there is some news that just doesn’t even deserve to be reported). How often are you simply waiting? Maybe you ride public transportation or rock kids to sleep or have a job with lots of “free” down time. Any time you find yourself on social media can typically be turned into time with books, especially through the new e-reader availability.

Reading isn’t everything. But as we choose our books tastefully and spend our time on it wisely, may we find greater returns than we ever expected.

“The Drop Box: How 500 Abandoned Babies, An Act of Compassion, and A Movie Changed My Life Forever”

In 2011, the Los Angeles Times ran an article on a South Koreanivie_dropbox pastor grieved over the number of abandoned babies in his country. Families would leave their babies—often born with special needs—in the harsh winter elements. Many didn’t survive. As he wondered how he could help people in desperate situations, he decided to build a baby box that he installed in a wall in his house. Parents could anonymously leave their baby in the box where he or she would be safe. Through this box the pastor and his wife rescued disabled orphans and adopted several of them. They embraced the same children that others discarded. And people noticed.

A Californian film student read the article and immediately saw the possibility of the story. He contacted the pastor to ask about doing a documentary, and a few years later, The Drop Box was completed.

But there is more to making a movie than what we see onscreen. In this case, there was much more.

In The Drop Box (talking about the book now), director Brian Ivie begins by telling about his childhood interest in films and filmmaking. Growing up he watched multiple movies every weekend, and he often roped in the neighbor kids (and even his dad) to make home movies he directed. Throughout the book Brian also reveals relational strains between him and his family and his eventual pornography habit.

But then, during his junior year in college, Brian read about the South Korean pastor. Here was a real story—he knew that from his years of watching stories. This would be the movie he would make. Maybe he would take it to a festival. Maybe he would win an award.

So Brian and a team he gathered traveled to South Korea to meet a pastor. Very quickly Ivie recognized the differences in their goals for this movie. “‘I don’t want it to be about me,’” Pastor Lee told him. “‘It needs to be about saving lives.’”

Soon Brian met an unexpected character in the story, the Lees’ biological adult son, Eun-man. Due to a medical condition, Eun-man lives in a dark room of the house, unable to do anything for himself. His parents and other caretakers feed, clothe, and bathe him, as well as provide routine, nauseating medical care on a daily basis.

Brian came home with hours upon hours of footage—and continued bondage to his sin.

Who bought what?

“When people would ask me why God existed, I had answers in the chamber…I knew about the plans of God and the beautiful purposes God has for our lives. I knew about the goodness of God and the provision of God. I knew that God cared about me personally and that He was real. But when people would ask me about the cross, that’s when I had to repeat somebody else’s words. On the first trip, I really flaunted my wooden cross necklace, you know, the one I bought on Amazon for eight dollars…But at some point, the cross can’t just be something you buy on Amazon. It has to be what bought you.”

God continued to work on Brian’s heart. One day he listened to a sermon by Mark Driscoll that grabbed him from the first point. He realized not only that he was a sinner and that God could rescue him, but also that God provided the love of a father he hadn’t known he needed.

“It was the first time I realized why God wanted me to meet Eun-man, the child who couldn’t offer anything to anybody except problems. For the first time in my life, I realized I was just one of those kids too, with nothing to offer a perfect God except my sin. I was a broken child, bound up in the dark and then suddenly pulled out through the laundry room, by a Father, into the light.”

The Baby in the Box

He pulled out his footage and notes again. The movie would go a new direction. But he needed to see Pastor Lee again.

Brian and his team were once again welcomed into Pastor’s Lee’s home, this time with all the excitement as if he were a returning family member. And with his recent conversion, he was.

During their visit, as they were playing with the children, the alarm sounded. Pastor Lee and his wife weren’t there, but everyone else leapt into action. There was a baby in the box.

Before his salvation, when Brian directed movies with his friends, he saw the people around him as props instead of souls. When he first visited South Korea, he carried the same attitude. But this time, as a child of God, watching the rescue of a baby, Brian saw things—and people—differently.

“I did know he and I weren’t that different. Because I was an orphan once. Even with nice parents and a nice house, I was an orphan in my heart. I was begging for people to love me, to approve of me, to want me. And what I learned is that when you’re an orphan, even just in your heart, you can love only those who will love you back…But as a child of God, you can be completely alone and still love people who have abandoned you…[W]e’re all orphans until we know how much we’re loved.”

Amazing

Brian’s life kept changing. His family life, his goals, his dating relationships. He shares his journey with openness, and his tongue-in-cheek humor coupled with countless movie references makes for a leisurely read. The movie did go to a festival, but I’ll let Brian tell you about that.

The Drop Box (the movie) tells an inspiring story of a man loved by God who spends his strength and time loving others. The Drop Box (the book) shows us how those stories can inspire new stories. Stories just as amazing.

“So, yeah, I became a Christian while making a movie. And that’s funny to me because before that, movies were God to me. They were everything. Just like success or fame or security is to other people…If I’m honest, I have to admit that when I went to meet this man in South Korea, I thought I was there to save a bunch of helpless kids. But the funny thing about God is He is always the Savior. Because when it comes down to it, we’re all the ones who need to be saved.”