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.”

Not Shallow Forever

29177859445_905b16f37b_qFor two straight weeks, the Level 1 swimmers splashed around in the gently sloping pool entry, teasing the deeper waters while the shallow end never left their reach. They followed their teacher, sputtered around, and played some game that looked like “Red Light, Green Light” but wasn’t.

After a few days of this, as the happy swimmers sloshed out of the water after their session, I heard another watching family member comment, “I couldn’t tell they made any progress.” They were still in the shallowest of the shallow end. They still mostly ran through the water instead of swimming in it.

As Christians, we know we will never fully “arrive” or reach some level of perfection in this life. We know about original sin and man’s depravity and the impossibility of earning God’s favor.

But like the soldiers and pilgrims that we are called to be, we aim higher than we are now. We try harder to read more, pray more, love more, complain less, worry less, sleep in less. We memorize and journal and reach out. We try. We try really hard.

And sometimes we get tired of it all. We already knew we fall short of perfection, yes. But what can be so terribly frustrating is that it seems like we’re no closer to reaching some semblance of it than we were yesterday. Or the day before. Or a year ago.

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).

“He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:24).

“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 24-25).

These promises still stand true for us. We know He is still working in our hearts, even when we can’t see it. Even when we don’t think anyone can see it. 

Even when we’re still splashing in the shallow end.

One night my Level 1 swimmer brother came into my room. “You know bobs—putting your head underwater?” he asked. “It’s getting easier.” He grinned. “Today I was actually the example.”

We’re not there yet, no. And we won’t be tomorrow. But He is still working in and through us. The God who sees our hearts sees what He is doing in them, even on those days we can’t see it ourselves.

And as we dive into deeper and deeper waters, we will forget about that shallow beginning. 

 

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/39734516@N00/29177859445″>100 Days of Summer #81 – Life Preserver</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a>

“My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers Her Family’s Nazi Past”

teege_grandfathernaziJennifer Teege was killing time before picking up her son from pre-k. Browsing the shelves in a German library, she found a book called I Have to Love My Father, Don’t I? Intrigued, she pulled it off the shelf. The Life Story of Monika Goeth, Daughter of the Concentration Camp Commandant from “Schindler’s List.” Monika Goeth was her mother.

Her mother.

Jennifer had been adopted when she was seven years old. She remembered her biological mother and grandmother, though her Nigerian father had long since ceased to be a part of her life. Life with her adoptive family was a happy and healthy childhood, and Jennifer enjoyed close relationships with her adoptive brothers and her caring adoptive parents.

After high school Jennifer spent time in Israel, eventually moving there for college and learning Hebrew. She married Goetz, and they now had two children of their own.

Shocked

Then Jennifer found it. She checked the book out of the library, devouring its pages. This was certainly her mother—and her grandmother. But who was this grandfather it talked about? She had never met her mother’s father, but here he was: Amon Goeth. Nazi camp commandant at Plasgow. The Nazi camp commandant in Schindler’s List. She had seen that movie before. Was she really related to that monster of a man?

The next night a documentary aired on television about her family. Her family. The birth family of happy memories.

Jennifer plunged into a deep depression. She had long struggled with depression and negativity, and now she felt she understood why. She spent hours researching her grandfather, and traveled to Poland to visit the home he had shared with her grandmother, and the camp he had brutally ruled.

“I read book after book, looking for answers, to find out what drove the perpetrators to act the way they did, but in the end I gave up: Yes, I found some explanations, but I would never understand it completely.”

The story just kept getting worse. Amon Goeth heartlessly killed many inmates, brutally treated the inmates who worked in his house, and never seemed to show any remorse for even the most sickening cruelty.

“He in his black uniform with its death-heads, me the black grandchild. What would he have said to a dark-skinned granddaughter, one who speaks Hebrew on top of that? I would have been a disgrace, a —- who brought dishonor to the family. I am sure my grandfather would have shot me.”

Telling Friends and Family

At Christmas, Jennifer told her adoptive family about her biological ties to the Nazis. They had never heard this part of her story. Jennifer’s adoptive brother became a close ally as she continued to wade through her family’s past. Her adoptive parents tried to be helpful, but Jennifer didn’t find their efforts as comforting. She would struggle with her relationship with them, and with her Israeli friends. They kept asking her what was going on, why she wasn’t answering their e-mails…How could she tell them about her family? How could they still call her friend after the actions of her grandfather?

Identity

Jennifer wrestled with much of this for years. Her father was a heartless terror—what does that say about her? Is she capable of the same choices? Are any of us?

“Height, lines—those things are only external. But what about on the inside? How much of Amon Goeth do I have in me? How much of Amon Goeth does each of us have in us? I think we all have a bit of him in us. To believe that I have more than others would be to think like a Nazi—to believe in the power of blood.”

Throughout the book she traces her journey from shock to peace, culminating with her renewed relationships with her Israeli friends. “But there is so much to discover in the barrenness,” she writes. And she shares what she finds with us.

A Picture, a Sister, and American Foster Care

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The picture went viral, but it was the article that got me. Michelle Burton, a police officer in Birmingham, AL, was pictured cuddling a sleeping infant after both of the child’s parents overdosed (one fatally). In a later article, the infant’s three older siblings were mentioned: a two-year-old boy, a three-year-old boy, and a seven-year-old girl.

As Burton held the sleeping baby, someone loaned the two little boys their flashlights and they began running around, playing. It was the seven-year-old sister who was quieter. When asked if she needed anything she had just one request: someone to sign her homework.

“‘I did my work,’” Burton remembers the little girl saying. She wanted to turn it in at school the next day.

In what world is a seven-year-old doing homework while her parents do drugs? In what dimension is school a child’s only consistency, their safe place?

According to a 2014 study, there are over 415,000 children in foster care in America, spending an average of 19 months in care. In 2014, children entered the foster care system at the rate of one every two minutes.

The statistics are powerful, but they don’t show the whole story. They don’t show the seven-year-old waiting for someone to sign her homework.

we are not yet where we will be