Who Stole My Church? – by George MacDonald (2008, 2010)

who stole my church

There are millions upon millions of people that love Jesus and gather to worship every Sunday. But having people from as many as five generations trying to do something together can be challenging. There are endless variations of ways to conduct services, sing, study the Bible, reach out to the community, support missions, have classes/youth activities, etc. Each generation has strong feelings about how exactly to do those things.

The author wrote this book in a unique way. Although it’s non-fiction, it’s written as fiction. The only characters in the story that are real people are the author and his wife; other characters are prototypes of church members you might have. The setting: a church that is slowly dying because most of its members are older, and the younger people have disappeared. So the pastor gets a small group of church members to meet twice a week to talk about how to re-connect with the younger generations and re-invent the church.

Some parts of the book were agonizing to read. It just seemed like the odds of being able to actually have services and programs that were relevant for everyone were all but impossible to achieve. What was good for one group was not for another group. But in the end, the only thing that really worked was different age groups getting to know and love each other, and a willingness to alter the way they did things without changing their basic mission of helping people find Jesus.

What stood out the most to me was how individualized each church has to be to make it really thrive. There is no one formula that every congregation can follow, and be guaranteed happiness and growth. And just about the time you think you have things running smoothly and everyone’s getting along and your numbers are increasing…things will change again.

 

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.”

 

Look Me In The Eye – by John Elder Robison (2007 hardcover, 2008 paperback)

Look Me in the Eye My Life with Asperger's

As a child, John Elder was aware that he wasn’t like other kids. For some reason, he had a terrible time conversing, making friends, and acting in ways that most people considered “normal”. Even looking his teachers in the eye when they were talking to him was nearly impossible. To further complicate things, his father was an alcoholic and his mother mentally ill, which made home life very tense. It wasn’t until he was 40 years old that a friend suggested that he might have Asperger’s. Once diagnosed, things finally made sense.

Even before he found out why he was different, John Elder worked hard in life and eventually became very successful. He made customized guitars with special effects for the band KISS, helped develop electronic games for Milton Bradley, opened his own shop to restore/repair high-end European cars, became a national speaker and advocate for persons with Asperger’s, and became a best-selling author.

In some ways I found this book similar to “The Glass Castle” – the poverty, the dysfunctional family, trying to cover the shame of their childhoods, and then their success despite all odds. Both books were disheartening at the beginning, but slowly morphed into stories of triumph. It just goes to show that no matter what disadvantages we may start off with, it’s really up to us to make our lives a success or a failure.

Some excerpts that I found thought-provoking:

from chapter 1:
Machines were never mean to me. They challenged me when I tried to figure them out. They never tricked me, and they never hurt my feelings. I was in charge of the machines. I liked that. I felt safe around them…

from chapter 17:
When people were drinking and doing coke around me, I often felt confused. I didn’t like feeling out of control, and I had seen people do outrageous things while they were drunk and have no memory of it the next day. The mere thought that I might do things like that was enough to make me cringe. So I didn’t know what to do. “Relax, Ampie! Here, have a line! Here, have a drink!” An observer would have said temptation was all around me, but to me it wasn’t tempting at all. I did a few lines and I drank a few drinks – just enough to feel like I was being polite. I never felt the desire to pack in all the beer I could drink or all the coke I could snort. I just did not like how it made me feel. The few times I was drunk or on drugs, I would close my eyes and the world would spin, and I would say to myself, When is this going to end? Why did I do this? It didn’t take me very long to outgrow it, if outgrow is the right word. I stopped doing drugs and liquor, and I didn’t resume.

from chapter 18:
Heroin was scary. I’d read how you could become addicted with a few pricks of the needle, and I saw how the addicts lived. In dumpsters, and passed out in doorways. No way am I going to do that, I thought. That was even worse than my father’s drinking. I watched it all with the same detachment I had learned to feel when I was excluded from playing with kid packs when I was five. No one made fun of me, but I still could not integrate myself into the groups around me. I wanted to make friends, but I didn’t want to engage in the activities I saw them doing. So I just watched. And I worked. And I stayed, convinced that it was better to be destitute in Amherst than in New York City.

from the postscript to the paperback edition:
Today when I speak to kids, I see myself in their struggles, and I want so much for them to have a better life than me. I resolved to clean up my language because that would help me reach more young people. To that end, I’ve made a few changes in this edition. I’ve cleaned up the language in some thirty passages to make the book appropriate for tweens and teenagers. All the pranks and tricks and wild times are still there, including passages that may be rough for a kid to read. But real life is like that, and some unfortunate kids experience things worse than I describe in my book every day. This book depicts my life as I live it. If you are a purist and prefer to read Look Me In The Eye in its original profane glory, the hardcover remains untouched.

Blasphemy – by Asia Bibi and Anne-Isabelle Tollett (2013)

Blasphemy

It wasn’t too far in our country’s past that we had separate drinking fountains for black people and white people. It was a disgraceful part of United States history that has been left behind. The same cannot be said for Pakistan, where Asia Bibi was sentenced to death for using the same drinking cup as the Muslim women in her community in 2009.

Asia and her husband Ashiq were the only Christians in their village, the rest of the residents being Muslim. However, they were respectful of the dominant religion, and had always lived peaceably with their neighbors. Then came the day that Asia was picking falsa berries with a group of women, and one woman objected to her having used the common water cup for a drink. All hell broke loose at that point, and Asia soon found herself in prison on trumped-up charges of blasphemy against Muhammad. Her captors said that if she gave up her allegiance to Jesus and converted to Islam, her life would be spared. She refused to renounce Jesus Christ.

In 2010 Asia was sentenced to be hanged for her crime, despite protesting her innocence. Her family had to go into hiding, for when one person is charged with blasphemy, the entire family is considered guilty. People all over the world protested her arrest, diplomats tried to negotiate her release, and the Pope begged the Pakistani government to release her. It has been eight years, and Asia still sits on death row, her life in limbo. Several people who have attempted to help her have been assassinated.

An international reporter affiliated with France 24, Anne-Isabelle Tollet, was moved to write a book about Asia’s imprisonment. It was a difficult task, as Asia could not read or write, and only the lawyer and husband were allowed to visit. So the lawyer would read questions to Asia, she would verbally answer, then the lawyer would convey them to Anne-Isabelle, who wrote them down. The book was finished and published in 2011, then re-published in 2012 and 2013.

It is simply appalling to think that in this day and age, people can be executed simply for the beliefs of their heart. Asia was not hurting anyone, nor was her family. Yet she will, in all likelihood, die of malnutrition or illness in prison. Would most Americans be willing to hold to their religious beliefs if faced with the hangman’s noose? I think not.

The Man Who Couldn’t Eat – by Jon Steiner (2011)

The Man Who Couldn't Eat

After reading this book, I’ll never complain again about having to fast before having a blood draw. Even being unable to eat for several days because of the flu pales in comparison to the nightmare described in this book. Jon Reiner is a guy who loves food, to the point of gluttony. But nasty digestive flare-ups lead to a diagnosis of Crohn’s Disease, surgery to repair the damage, and an altered diet.

The book begins at a point in Jon’s life when he’s been feeling exceptionally well, so he has reverted back to eating whatever he wants. Then the worst possible thing happens: while his wife is at work and the kids are in school, his intestines rupture. Jon comes close to dying on his living room floor. He spends weeks hospitalized with peritonitis, and the doctors not allowing him to eat or drink anything. He has only intravenous (IV) nutrition.  Jon comes to hate the medical term NPO (no products orally).

As time drags on with very little healing, the doctors decide to let him go home, but he must continue to survive solely on IV feedings for three months to allow the digestive track to rest and heal. Watching his family eat while he is allowed not one sip of water or bite of food is agony. Jon’s descriptions of food fantasies and past eating experiences are vivid, to the point of almost being able to taste them as you read.

The story is truly stranger than fiction. It is hard to imagine that anyone could survive the abdominal infection and months of not eating. But the human body is amazingly created with the ability to heal up from nearly impossible odds. The next time you feel deprived because your meal is late or the doctor wants you to fast for a day before some procedure, think about Jon Reiner and thank God you’re not going through the same thing.

Castles In The Air – by Judy Corbett (2004)

Castles In The Air

It was love at first sight when Peter and Judy Corbett laid eyes on Gwydir Castle in Wales. The castle was about 500 years old, with the oldest parts dating back to 1555 AD. It would be a dream come true to live in such a place, they thought. So they bought it, not realizing just how much time and money it would require to restore.

Their first week in the castle was eye-opening, to say the least. Check out these blurbs from chapter 4: Trial By Pestilence And Flood.

“We struggled with the fire. It was our only source of heat in the house. A year’s worth of combustibles sat piled up in the grate. Peter poked around and extracted two forlorn bits of charred seventeenth-century panelling…

“The Primus stove hissed contentedly away on the flagstones, producing its own unique aroma of onions, gas and seashells. Everyone but Sven had boycotted the kitchen after finding rat droppings in the cupboards and the bloated body of a dead rat in the water tank which supplied the kitchen…

“I awoke from a night spent dealing with the effects of acute seafood poisoning without the provision of an upstairs flushable loo. It was a degrading business make worse by the knowledge that there was no hot water either. All night I writhed on my mattress of bubble wrap, listening to the metallic plink of rainwater hitting a rusted Fray Bentos tin…

“…the river had burst its banks in the night and the garden was completely flooded and we were cut off from the town and all our garden walls had been washed away and the cellars were full of water and the flood was still rising and some of our furniture was still outside in the courtyard and our car was floating around in the car park…

“Though we’d lived in the house for just under a week, I still kept losing my bearings and constantly had to remind myself where the kitchen was in relation to our bedroom and how the maze of other rooms interrelated…”

Despite their financial limitations, the Corbetts managed to restore Gwydir Castle to near-original condition. They found inventive ways to raise money for the repairs they needed to make, and in the end their castle was truly home.

Building A Home With My Husband – by Rachel Simon (2009)

Building A Home With My Husband

When you start a home improvement project, it is almost guaranteed to become more difficult than first anticipated. This was definitely the case for Hal and Rachel, who decided to totally remodel their century-old row house in Wilmington, Delaware. Hal, being the architect, drew the plans to convert the house from a drafty, inefficient house to one that was modern, well-insulated, and eco-friendly. The couple had to rent another house to live in during the renovation. One thing after another went wrong, and it seemed that the house would never be finished.

But this isn’t just a book about a construction project; it’s a heartfelt story about relationships. Rachel’s complex relationship with her husband Hal. Rachel’s relationship with her mother, who walked away from the family when she was a child. Rachel’s relationship with her sister Beth, who is mentally challenged. Rachel’s relationships with one of the neighbors she becomes close to in their temporary house. The author goes back and forth from the house to the relationships, weaving them together.

I enjoyed this biography so much that I sighed when it came to an end, and they were back in their original house, now much improved. I wanted the story to go on and on, to hear more about Rachel and her mother rebuilding their relationship, about good times with sister Beth, and so on. Fortunately for me, Rachel has written another book, entitled “Riding The Bus With My Sister”, which will be my next book!