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Transformative accounts of faith and redemption
For five writers from varied points on the Christian spectrum, God transforms dramatic circumstances into spiritual gain. From moving across the country to facing death itself, these authors amply illustrate that resurrection stories—far from being a thing of the past—are happening all around us.
For Steve Sjogren, author of Heaven’s Lessons: Ten Things I Learned About God When I Died, a near-death experience in 2000 led to an unexpected destination in his faith. Sjogren’s story is a humbling one. While pastoring a megachurch in Cincinnati, he went in for a standard hospital surgery that went horribly wrong. On the operating table, God told him that from now on he would “walk with a limp.” Following the surgery, Sjogren lost his position at the church, faced severely diminished health and was forced to re-examine some of the fundamental things he believed about God. He’s divided this book into 10 resulting lessons. “Though my experience with God in my near death experience was life changing, what followed it was depressing to me,” he writes. “If there is an option for a fast route, it seems I still always end up being placed on the l-o-n-g way forward.” This book offers readers the opportunity to benefit from Sjogren’s journey and to see how God turned a tragedy into a transformation. Sjogren, ever the pastor, is quick to provide applications of the book’s lessons to the reader’s life.
A PARENT’S STRUGGLE
In Beautiful Nate, Dennis Mansfield explores how his son’s drug addiction forced him to confront unwelcome truths about evangelicalism. Even though Mansfield tried to raise his son “by the book,” relying on experts like James Dobson, his boy still repeatedly rebelled and ultimately—in his 20s—died after an adverse drug reaction. Mansfield, a former Focus on the Family employee and lobbyist, loves Reagan, rhetoric and his family. His passions come through clearly, as does his pain. As Nate faced prison and life beyond, his father describes a softer side of their relationship: impromptu visits, staying up all night to watch movies and (most movingly) writing a novel the pair jointly penned during Nate’s incarceration. To his father, Nate was a follower of Jesus Christ forever torn by competing desires. While Beautiful Nate is certainly a sad story, Mansfield is consistently grateful for his son and the lessons learned about faith, parenting and life. He writes, “My hope is that you found [this] to be a poignant account of the realization that . . . things often turn out very wrong—and yet can turn out eternally right.” This is a good book for parents of faith who want to heal imperfect circumstances through the mercy of a perfect God.
In Landmarks: Turning Points on Your Journey Toward God, author Bill Delvaux describes a series of unexplainable choices that yielded satisfying results. He left a ministry position for teaching, and left his teaching position to write and speak about faith. A thoughtful writer, Delvaux was asked by a colleague to explain how his spiritual journey developed through these counterintuitive decisions. Delvaux responds that though he never knew he was going in the right direction, his Heavenly Father provided certain “landmarks” along the way. For frequent readers of evangelical nonfiction, the landmarks may seem unsurprising—giving up idols, addressing old wounds, seeking sexual purity. Yet Delvaux’s way of addressing these topics gives this slim book both gravity and purpose. When discussing idols, for instance, Delvaux shares his own former insistence that the details of his life be in order, right down to his junk mail. He realized that grasping toward perfection was ultimately idolatrous. As he reveals his own story, readers are gently guided to consider their own. A movie fan, Delvaux situates many of his lessons within the context of popular films. A small book that leaves a big impression, Landmarks tells how one man was transformed by embracing the principles he’d been teaching his whole life.
For spiritual seeker and standout writer Beverly Donofrio (author of the memoir Riding in Cars With Boys) the pursuit of faith led to life in a small Mexican town replete with margaritas at sunset, yoga and plenty of time for writing. Yet Donofrio, a Catholic, felt herself drifting from God. Committed to rededicating herself, she planned an ambitious tour of monasteries around the country. Then a man broke into her apartment and raped her at knifepoint. In her new book, Astonished: A Story of Evil, Blessings, Grace, and Solace, Donofrio ponders the significance of the timing. What does the rape reveal about God? How do trials figure into God’s plan for our lives? What does it mean to heal and grow? Donofrio spends much of the next year completing her monastery tour and offering tentative answers to these questions and more. A nontraditional thinker who accepts parts of the “Jesus myth” and rejects other parts, Donofrio’s journey around the country and into her inner life is compelling material beautifully written. Perpetually humble, searching, honest and wry, Donofrio is a fine companion for a spiritual journey.
Jack Perkins, best known as a longtime reporter for NBC News, left a successful journalism career to move to a remote island in Maine. In Finding Moosewood, Finding God, Perkins traces the spiritual lessons he learned, recounts favorite stories from his journalism days and offers a wholly appealing personal glimpse into his family life. In the wilds of Maine—reading the journals of Thoreau and following his spiritual impulses—Perkins’ personal journey with God truly begins. By rejecting the consumerist culture of Los Angeles, Perkins and his wife Mary Jo find what seems to be an incomparable happiness in island living and creative pursuits. Both read voraciously and explore their new home with enthusiasm. By embracing the blessings of God—in a sunset, in the view of the water at night, in spotting a passing lobster boat—the couple begins to appreciate His divine character. This fresh and invigorating story will help the reader appreciate her own life and, better yet, feel that anything is possible.
While these books vary in points of view, trials faced and solutions suggested, they share a common belief that God is in the midst of our circumstances. This divine God who resurrects new life from death is, they agree, more real than the world before our eyes. As Perkins writes in one of his poems: “Henceforth this is my plan: / Believe much more in what I can’t see, / Much less in what I can.”