90 Minutes In Heaven – by Don Piper 2004


When Don Piper’s car was struck head-on in 1989 with an impact of 110 miles an hour, that should have been the end of his earthly life. And for ninety minutes, his spirit was absent from earth, and present at the gates of heaven. The paramedics declared him dead and covered his lifeless body with a tarp. But one man passing by felt God telling him to pray over Don. For more than an hour, the man prayed and sang hymns. Then the unimaginable happened: Don came back to earth.

Although a sliver of the book is devoted to the attempt to describe heaven, the majority of the book focuses on the unbearable pain and long recovery of Don Piper. It was difficult to read this book, as so many parts reminded me of my son’s accident, recovery, and ongoing pain. The detailed description of the fixator Don wore for many months was especially familiar.

Some people who read this biography will say it’s proof of the power of the human spirit. But I say: it is a testimony to the power of God to bring life out of death. This book is one that everyone who battles pain – or has someone in their life battling chronic pain – should read.


Excerpt from page 73:

I was in Hermann ICU for twelve days. Then I stayed four to five days in Hermann Hospital before they transferred me down the street to St. Luke’s Hospital. Both hospitals are part of the world’s largest medical center. I remained in St. Luke’s for 105 days. Once I was home, I lay in bed for thirteen months and endure thirty-four surgeries. Without question, I am still alive because people prayed for me, beginning with Dick Onetecker and other people around the country, many of whom I’ve never met.

Excerpt from page 83:

At night they gave me additional medication to try to make me sleep. I write “try” because the additional medicine didn’t work. Nothing they did put me to sleep – not sleeping pills, pain shots, or additional morphine. I had no way to get comfortable or even to feel relieved enough from pain to relax.

I’ve tried to explain it by saying it this way: “Imagine yourself lying in bed, and you’ve got rods through your arms, wires through your legs, and you’re on your back. You can’t turn over. In fact, just to move your shoulder a quarter of an inch is impossible unless you reach up and grab what looks like a trapeze bar that hangs above your bed. Even the exertion to move a fraction of an inch sends daggers of pain all through your body. You are completely immobile.”


Camino Island – by John Grisham (2017)

Camino Island

When I heard that John Grisham’s newest novel was about valuable books that were stolen from a library, I thought: hey, just my kind of book – a book about books! And I didn’t even have to wait for months on a list to get it, as an express copy was available at my neighborhood library. It didn’t take long to dive into the story.

It begins with the heist. Five guys look to strike it rich by stealing original manuscripts of F. Scott Fitzgerald, which are under lock and key at the Princeton library. They succeed, and then have the problem of where to sell their “hot” items. The FBI thinks they know where the manuscripts are being hidden, and recruits a female author (Mercer) with staggering college debts to get close to the suspect.

What I enjoyed most about the novel was the close-knit community of writers on the island. They hung around together, commiserated when someone’s book didn’t sell well, and even tried to help Mercer when she had writer’s block. That would be a wonderful sort of place to live in real life.

What I disliked was the shallowness of the characters, which could have been much more developed. The shallowness¬† made it hard to stay enthused about the story. Mercer was a flat character, always whining about how she couldn’t think of any good story-lines. Bruce, the bookstore owner and suspect, was obsessed with sleeping with as many women as possible and making a lot of money. None of the original thieves were very likable either.

The book overall was mediocre. Mr. Grisham has obviously used up all his best ideas on earlier books such as: The Firm, The Rainmaker, The Street Lawyer, The Testament, The Summons, and The Last Juror. (He is, however, doing a great job in recent years writing youth fiction – his Theodore Boone, Kid Lawyer series.) His best work always seems to involve lawyers, legal matters, and courtrooms. He would do well to return to his specialty.


Pigs In Heaven – by Barbara Kingsolver (1993)

Pigs in heaven 2

Who is your family, and where is home? Is it the ones you share a bloodline with, and their community? Or is it your adoptive parents and the new place you live? And who gets to decide?

This is the story of Turtle, a Cherokee girl, who was given away to a white woman, Taylor, at the age of three. Now she is six years old and considers Taylor her mother. While they are visiting the Hoover Dam, they manage to save the live of a young man who accidentally falls into a spill-off drain. This lands them in the news, which draws attention to the fact that a Native American child has been illegally adopted out of her heritage.

From that point on, there is a fight over who gets to have Turtle. The Cherokee Nation wants her back. But Taylor is willing to give up everything – her boyfriend Jax, her job, friends and her old neighborhood – to keep her daughter. They go into hiding, and are joined by Alice, Taylor’s mother.

Although this is a fictitious story, it conveys very well the agony that both sides go through when trying to reverse an adoption. It’s an extremely difficult experience for everyone, especially the child in the middle. The debate is further complicated by Turtle being a Native American child, therefore not eligible to be adopted by Taylor because of the Indian Child Welfare Act. There are no easy answers, and the decision-makers need to have the wisdom of King Solomon.



The New Normal – thoughts from Don Piper

90 Minutes In Heaven car scene
Photo credit:

I’ve been reading Don Piper’s book “90 Minutes In Heaven”. It’s the biography of a man in his late 30’s who was crossing a narrow two-lane bridge when an 18-wheeler coming from the opposite direction crossed the line and hit him head on. At that instant, Don Piper’s “normal” forever changed.

Although he writes about his experience of dying and spending a short time in heaven, the majority of the book focuses on his life after he was miraculously brought back to life, and the agonizing years that followed. Here’s an excerpt from chapter 14 (page 138):

“In my twenties, when I was a disc jockey, we used to play oldies, and people who called in to request those songs often commented that music used to be better than it is now. The reality is that in the old days we played good and bad records, but the bad ones faded quickly from memory just like bad ones do now. No one ever asked us to play the music that bombed. The good songs make the former times seem great, as if all the music was outstanding. In reality, there was bad music thirty years ago or fifty years ago – in fact, a lot of bad music. The same is true with experiences. We tend to forget the negative and go back to recapture pleasant events. The reality is, we have selectively remembered – and just as selectively forgotten.

“Once that idea got through to me, I decided I couldn’t recapture the past. No matter how much I tried to idealize it, that part of my life was over and I would never be healthy or strong again. The only thing for me to do was to discover a new normal.”

I pondered this, and realized that this is what we all go through in life (although most of us don’t experience it quite as dramatically as Don). The old normal used to be popping out of bed in the morning feeling perfect and ready to jump into the day. The new normal is getting up stiff and achy, hobbling out to the kitchen, and spending an hour or so just limbering up the limbs. Things are definitely not what they used to be. All through life there are different stages, different “normal”s. We either accept the changes in life and move on, or we turn angry and bitter about everything that isn’t like the good old days. This book really brought that thought home.



The Courage Tree – by Diane Chamberlain (2001)

The Courage Tree

“The Courage Tree” is the story of two mothers and two daughters whose lives intersect. Janine has an 8-year-old daughter, Sophie, who has gone to summer camp for the first time, despite having kidney failure. On the way home from camp, Sophie goes missing. The other mother is Zoe, who has a grown daughter, Marti, who is a prison convict. Zoe has orchestrated an elaborate scheme to free her daughter, who she is certain is innocent.

Both mothers love their daughters unconditionally and would do anything for them. But the actions of one mother may mean death for the other mother’s daughter. Throughout the story, the question is: how far would you go for your child? To say more about the story-line would give away too much of the plot. Suffice it to say this was a book I had a hard time putting down.


Potpourri Stew

2017-07-08 letting the stew stew for a while

The thing I love most about stew is that you don’t have to follow a recipe. Recipes often ask you to buy ingredients that you don’t normally use. You use a tiny bit, then the rest of it sits in your cupboard for years unused. At least this is how it tends to go for me.

The potpourri way is so much better.

1: Start heating up broth on the stove. It can be the dehydrated kind or the kind in a carton. Swanson makes some that is almost entirely salt-free, but still tastes good.

2017-07-08 Stew broth

2. Chop up some meat and throw it into the broth to simmer for a couple hours if it’s raw. If it’s last night’s leftover meat, just put it in at the same time as the veggies. Chicken, pork, and chuck-eye roast meat all work well. (Tip: don’t buy it already cut up, it’ll cost you way more.) Any kind of meat, any amount, depending on your taste – or none at all if you’re vegetarian.

3. Chop up any veggies you find languishing in your refrigerator and throw them in the stew pot. You can use any kind of vegetable. Today I used cabbage, carrots, spinach leaves, and a tomato.

2017-07-08 stew veggies

4. About an hour before supper, I usually throw in one more thing – a cup of barley, a little rice, or a can of Bush’s baked beans – to give it that finished taste.

That’s all there is to it. It’s simple and frugal, and helps clear out your refrigerator.




Life Goes On – by Philip Gulley (2004)

Life Goes On

I absolutely loved “Home To Harmony” and “Just Shy Of Harmony”, earlier books in the Harmony series by this author, but “Life Goes On” left me with a very different aftertaste. The book covers the fourth year of Sam Gardner as the minister of a small Quaker congregation. Once again, the story focuses on Sam’s relationship with various members of his church.

The book had some parts that made me laugh hysterically, such as the chapter where the church secretary gives Sam a ferret for his boys. Then there was the chapter where a vegetarian girl is chosen as the “Sausage Queen” for the annual parade and scholarship. The stories about having laryngitis on Sunday morning, having a close encounter with an endangered animal, and trying to repair things at home without using a professional were amusing.

But the majority of the book was quite negative. The members of Sam’s congregation are¬† nasty people. They start rumors, tell lies about Sam, battle over who’s going to teach a Sunday School class, steal, and hate Democrats and liberal media. The mental picture that the reader gets is that most Christians are legalistic, narrow-minded, vindictive people.

Dale Hinshaw is a major player in the storyline. He treats his wife shabbily while pretending to be a super-spiritual person. He is hungry for power and position, and is part of the attempt to fire Sam. Previous books give Dale some redeeming qualities, but in this novel there is nothing good about him. He is a character to be despised.

Even Sam is a great disappointment, not sure of what he believes, and unwilling to stand up to the people who are destroying him. He seems apathetic throughout the story. Instead of being a leader of his little congregation, his little congregation drags him around and beats him up. It seems to me that he needs to find another job.

“Life Goes On” left me with a sour taste in my mouth, and a wish that I had passed on this book.