Profile: Mrs. Thornhill

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I’ve been doing a lot of writing lately – though it’s mostly been school assignments. This is one of the feature stories – a profile – that I wrote for my journalism class. Mrs. Thornhill is a librarian at my school, Patrick Henry College.

“I’m not a very interesting person. I think I’m pretty boring, actually. I’m much more interested in other people.” Vickie Thornhill begins our conversation with characteristic humility.

Boring, she says.

But the woman in front of me is far more than PHC’s beloved librarian. She has devoted years of her life to campus ministry, lived in states from Arizona to New Hampshire, and spent seven years as a missionary in Israel. She’s dodged terrorist attacks and hiked through the wilderness of En Gedi. On top of all that, she has a master’s degree in library science.

Thornhill’s life has been centered on ministry. It all started when she became a Christian as a sophomore in college.

“I thought that I was really smart and I could figure out this life thing and make good decisions,” she says, with a wry smile. “I ended up really disillusioned, in hurting relationships…so when I heard the option that God had a good plan for my life, I thought, I’ll try this for as long as it works. And that was 40 years ago.”

Her newfound relationship with God spilled over into her college friendships. She shared the Gospel with her friends, and so many of them became Christians that for a while she thought that everyone who heard the Gospel became saved. Years later, they’re all still Christians, and she keeps in touch with them and shares prayer requests over Facebook.

After college, Thornhill moved to Arizona and joined Campus Crusade for Christ (now called Cru), a Christian ministry focused on campus outreach. After a few years, Campus Crusade sent her to Boston. Life in Arizona and New England was very different from life in her native South Carolina.

“In South Carolina people are very polite, and in Arizona people are very honest, and in Boston people are very rude,” she says with a chuckle. “But they’re all people and people want the same things. They want to love and be loved, and they want to have a life of significance.”

Transitioning to different states with Campus Crusade prepared her for a much bigger transition overseas. In one of her first conversations with Jeff Thornhill, he mentioned that he’d always wanted to serve as a missionary in Israel. Thornhill was stunned. She’d had the same dream for years, and initially thought that one of her friends must have told him.

“It sounds like one of those Christian pickup lines – it’s ‘What’s your favorite verse’, and ‘Tell me about the Bible’, and ‘Do you want to go to the foreign mission field with me?’” she says.

It might have worked – but it wasn’t a pickup line. Thornhill married Dean Jeff Thornhill in 1983, and four years later, they moved to Israel.

Though she was still working with Campus Crusade, Thornhill found that ministry in Israel was very different. But people were still the same – her Israeli friends still wanted to be loved and significant and happy, and her relationships with them became a natural bridge for the Gospel.

“The Lord makes a place for you wherever He leads you, and I absolutely loved Israel. It’s exhausting and wonderful and terrifying all at the same time.”

Because there were so few believers where they worked, the Thornhills taught at local churches, as well as doing campus outreach. Work was slow. Many local churches had few Bible study materials and little training, which often led to doctrinal errors and passages taken out of context. The Thornhills provided and translated Bible study materials for many congregations. Their little living room was often home to a retreat for Christians from their church who were about to go into the Israeli Defense Force. Back then, there were about 30 of them. Now, though the Thornhills are gone, there are more than 300. There’s great joy in Thornhill’s eyes as she tells me that the next generation of believers in the congregations they ministered to has risen up and grown. “The Lord has blessed us tremendously.”

As much as she loved Israel, the Thornhills’ seven years there were fraught with danger. Each day, she had to prepare herself for the very real possibility that her husband or young daughter Ciara might not come home. She made sure that they left each other each day with, “Love you. Goodbye.” She learned to avoid crowded bus stops and scan the streets for dangerous people. “I usually tell people I’m not frightened by much anymore because I’ve been terrified by the professionals,” she jokes. “I learned not to be afraid, because I will be here until God takes me home.”

Once, Dean Thornhill was near the site of a bombing attack. For hours, they waited for a call, not knowing whether he was alive. Another time, Ciara’s best friend was killed when a terrorist blew up a school bus.

Thornhill is matter-of-fact as she tells me these things, but her voice fills with emotion. “They blew up 13 and 14-year-old girls. Who targets a bus full of girl children on their way home from school? I knew it could be Ciara or my husband. But it wasn’t our time yet. You really do learn to take God’s word and say, ‘This is what He promised.’”

The Thornhills’ time in Israel came to an end when their tourist visa ran out. They moved back to the United States. Thornhill says she still dreams of Israel often, and there’s a longing note in her voice when she talks about what it was like to live there. But she’s confident that “when we really do get to heaven, what seems like arbitrary decisions…it’ll all be a straight line.”

The Thornhills were led to PHC, where she became its beloved librarian. To her, the library is just as important a ministry as serving in Israel was. “I think that was my original desire in becoming a librarian – one, I love libraries and books, I love helping people find things, but I also love encouraging young men and women to trust the Lord. I think I’m in a particular position to say, if you entrust yourself to the Lord, He does have a future and a hope.”

Christiana Jorgensen is one of the hundreds of students that Thornhill has impacted. She was having a difficult semester, and Thornhill noticed. One day, when Jorgensen was sitting in the library, “Mrs. Thornhill walked by, and she patted me on the head, and I almost started crying.”

Even the memory makes Jorgensen’s voice falter. “Without words, she cared, and listened, and knew that I was there, and loved me. Without judgement, she met me where I was.”

Thornhill excels at small acts of kindness. “I remember one time, specifically, when she just came and brought me tea that she had made for me one day while I was studying. I know it’s such a small thing, but that little gesture made me feel so special and loved. And the thing is, I know she makes every student feel that way,” says Julia Coniglio.

Emily Roessler agrees. “She takes time out of her day to pray for students, and in my personal experience she has sent me emails explaining that she was thinking and praying for me on that particular day. She is one of the brightest lights at PHC.”

For Jorgensen, who now works with Thornhill in the library, Thornhill is an encouraging example of faithfulness, energy, and humility. “She never shies away from speaking up and speaking the truth, whether it’s someone being too loud in the library or someone being unkind. If I could be anyone when I grow up, I’d be Mrs. Thornhill,” Jorgensen says.

Thornhill closes our conversation by saying again, as she has a few times, that she’s “boring.”

“I’m not an extraordinary person,” she says, shaking her head, almost in wonder. “But I’ve led quite an extraordinary life. I’ve watched the aurora borealis from Lake Champlain in Vermont, I’ve watched sunset over the Mediterranean, I’ve watched sunrise over the Judean hills. I’ve hiked En Gedi, where David wrote the Psalms. I’ve seen God do some amazing things. And I think I can encourage people that if you trust the Lord, there’s an amazing life ahead of you. Life is hard, but God is good.”

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Old Neighbors

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I always wanted kids in our neighborhood.

Over the years we had a few – some friendly, some less so. A couple houses down, on a cross street, was one family with kids our age who actually became our good friends. But on the whole, our neighborhood was full of…well, old people.

There were our extra grandparents next door – the Statelers, Mrs. Dorothy and Mr. Richard. My siblings and I spent so many afternoons at their house – swinging in the tire swing, hunting eggs in the yard, feeding the birds, watching Mrs. Dorothy work in the garden, or helping her cook – on occasion, tasting the sweet nectar of Cool Whip (forbidden at my house) when we made a cake.

Mrs. Dorothy had deep hollows behind her eyes and a smile that spoke of quiet joy inside. She was always making something good. She loved her garden and tended the plants like children. She was always so excited so hold my new-born siblings, and she’d exclaim “Oh Julia!” to my mom each time we told her another was on the way.  I can still hear her voice – delighted, warm, comfortable. She’d let us run over and borrow sugar. She always had birdseed and hummingbird feeders out, and she’d sit in one of the old yellow chairs on their back porch, watching the birds, when it was warm.

Mr. Richard kept to himself, but he was kind. He was always refurbishing antiques in the garage, and sometimes he’d show us how they worked. He’d stop polishing a chair, wipe calloused fingers on his old bandana, and pick up some wonderful old thing – perhaps an iron hummingbird that dipped into a dish and picked up toothpicks. He’d let us try it out, his rare smile breaking through when we admired it. Sometimes he’d pull out a pack of Fig Newtons and offer us one. I always accepted, even though I didn’t like them. He never knew.

There was Mr. Opperman, who walked his big German Shepherd, Keeno, past our house every day. Keeno always pulled so hard on the leash that he never dared to let go of it. His hands got more trembly every year, but they were always firm on the leash, and his nervous voice was fond when he talked about his dog. “Keeno’s a good one,” he’d say – and then add, pointing to me and my sisters, “He loves the ladies.”

I used to be afraid of dogs, but I’d pet Keeno while Mr. Opperman talked, often for a long while.

There were the three old ladies who always walked around the block together early every morning – Nora Lee Birdwell, Rosemary Ashmore, and Mary Becker. Nora Lee sometimes made us cookies. Rosemary had a gentle voice and the bluest of blue eyes behind her glasses. She always wore a kerchief over her head and looked very proper. Mary didn’t talk to us much, which is probably why I can’t bring her face to mind. But she would wave back.

There was Mrs. Trudy, the blind lady at the end of the street. For years, we saw her walking down the street every day with her husband and long cane. He was always talking to her, perhaps describing the bright leaves on the Statelers’ sweet-gum tree or the Jacksons’ dogs that always ran barking to the fence whenever anyone passed by. Then, one day, an ambulance – and after that she walked with her daughter, who moved over from Florida. We visited her. She was still crying for him, months later, but she smiled when we told her that the small package in her hand was pumpkin bread. She and her daughter always came to our annual Christmas party after that. I’d get her a plate and describe the food to her, and she’d sit happily in the corner chair and talk with the neighbors, at ease.

And then there was old Miss Q. Her real name was Catherine, but to us she was always Miss Q. She was 97, at least (she wasn’t sure), confined to a wheelchair but never confined in spirit. She wore a necklace of flashing Christmas lights to our annual Christmas party and decorated her yard with a plastic goose dressed in seasonal costumes. She had a sharp, slightly wicked sense of humor, and the wildest stories to tell. She was the great-granddaughter of famous Texan Sam Houston, but for years she never told anyone because – she’d always lean in to whisper – “He drank.”

Things are different now.

Mrs. Trudy moved away, to live with family. So did Rosemary Ashmore and Mary Becker. So did Miss Rose and Mrs. Sousares and Betty Rogers, whose stories I haven’t told. Betty loved that we shared a name. We came to her house for a last visit just before she moved, and she gave me a graceful wooden statue of Mary that she’d had carved for her in Germany. It presides over other treasures in our dining room cabinet now.

One December we sang “In the Garden,” Mrs. Dorothy’s favorite hymn, as she lay in a hospital bed dying of cancer. The hollows under her eyes were deeper, but she was smiling, unafraid.

Several weeks later we sang it at her funeral, and Mr. Richard, usually standoffish to grownups, hugged my mom and cried.

He’s gone now, after one bittersweet year of openness between him and us. He came to our door more often, gave more hugs.

Mrs. Q and Mr. Opperman are gone too. Their houses are now filled with people we don’t know, their places at our neighborhood Christmas party achingly empty.

But old Nora Lee Birdwell still walks around the block. Though her sentences don’t make sense, her smile does. So do the cookies she still bakes for us.

So I guess I’m grateful that I had the old people instead. And as long as I can, I’ll go talk to Nora Lee, and visit the Statelers’ daughter who lives in their house now, and glance down the street in the evening, looking for Keeno.

I Didn’t Choose the Crutch Life, the Crutch Life Chose Me

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I’ve been on crutches for the past week.

It wasn’t anything very dramatic – the bottom of my shoe’s heel broke off and I fell down about half the stairs in my dorm (carpeted, thankfully). The problem was that my left ankle twisted under itself and backwards…and ankles aren’t really supposed to bend that way. It’s not fractured, but could be torn. Hopefully it’s just a sprain. It’s definitely still swollen more than is healthy.

So, a week later, I have a lot of respect for people who use crutches every day. I have become much better at hopping up stairs. And I’ve been humbled by others’ love and my own tendency to become to easily frustrated.

Patience is a lot easier when it’s untested, when I can run quickly from building to building and pick up my own plate at meals. I’ve been reminded that it’s a skill long in the learning and even longer in the living out.

Because honestly?

After only two days on crutches, I wrote: “I’m tired. Tired of hopping up and down staircases, of crutch-bruised hands and side, of slowness and tiredness and endlessly asking others to help me.”

Reading that now, it seems overly melodramatic. In the days since then, I’ve toughened and the crutches are easier. And a sprained ankle really isn’t much of a cross to bear!

But God has been using it to teach me patience, cheerfulness, and hope – as He always does when my own bright plans go wrong. He has also blessed me in great measure.

The president of my college helped me gather my crutches and get off stage after I helped lead worship yesterday. Professors pray for me. Many of my friends now have higher tallies of chivalry points 🙂

I don’t like to be needy, to ask for help, to be so dependent on others’ kindness. But I have been blown away by the sheer amount of people who ask me how I’m doing every day, who open doors, who help me up and down stairs, who carry my bag and crutches, who get me a plate at meals, who encourage me, who get me ice, who love me.

At the end of the day, as I crawl up the stairs, I can now thank God for the carpeting – and more importantly for all those who have helped me get through the day, Himself not least.

I won’t be praying for sprained ankles in the future. But I’ll be asking God to keep teaching me lessons like these.

Six Word Stories

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I haven’t had much time to write for pleasure recently – school takes up so much time. But I have had the chance to refine my writing a bit more while writing journalistic articles and papers. One thing that my teachers emphasize again and again is the need to be concise. Especially in journalism, there’s no room for unnecessary words. And as much as I love flowery words, I have to learn how to say things in a memorable and impactful way without them, too.

One exercise that really helps me practice making my writing both concise and impactful is six word stories. Of course, you can’t really pack a complete story into only six words, but the goal is to show a clear and interesting narrative behind them.

Here are a few of mine:

“Why?” “You were worth the cost.”

The memory aches, but I smile.

I can’t unsee her quiet tears.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Silence.

There is peace even in pain.

Her face is lined – with joy.

His silence said far too much.

I came back broken. He didn’t.

She is summer rain and dancing.

Those gentle hands once hurt themselves.

A child’s laugh hurts too much.

Someday you’ll understand why I left.

My scars aren’t on the outside.

With you even silence is sweet.

Will all my love be enough?

His mind’s slow. His laugh isn’t.

Few things worth doing are easy.

There is forgiveness even for me.

Six word stories are also really helpful as story starters. Reading over my old ones often brings a new idea to mind or reminds me of something that can be woven into an existing story to give it more depth. One thing I want to try is writing short stories that give the background to all the six word ones.

If you’re looking for a fun writing exercise that can also refine your skills, you should try six word stories! Let me know in the comments if you do.

I’m Back: A Life Update

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Hello, friends.

It’s been a while, I know. Since my last post, I’ve started college at Patrick Henry College. It’s been scary and wonderful and hard and fun and very different, in many ways, than I’d imagined.

God has made it clear, in so many ways, that this is where I’m supposed to be.

Originally, I didn’t even want to go to a Christian college. I wanted to fight. I wanted to stand for the truth in a hostile environment. I still do – and we still have opportunities to do that here, but God’s shown me that it’s all right to be somewhere that I flourish, too. It’s all right to come to class and be built up and strengthened in my faith and love for God.

During orientation week, God made this so clear. I was sitting in chapel one morning, trying to feel like I knew what I was doing. My mom had just left the day before, and everything still felt so new and strange. President Haye came up and spoke to the incoming freshman class. He said many good things, though I don’t remember most of them. But then he said he had one final word for us. “I’d like to read a prayer,” he continued, “by Sir Francis Drake.”

I sat bolt upright. I could hardly believe my ears. Really, Lord? The same prayer…? The prayer that had been stirring in my heart when I first started this whole college journey? (You can read the prayer and my thoughts about it here.)

“Disturb us, Lord…”

Yes!

Such joy leaped up in my heart then that I think my smile might’ve stretched to the corners of the room.

God is good.

It’s hard to explain life here, but I’ll try to open a little window into it for you (and there are picture this time!).

The schoolwork isn’t easy. There is always a lot to do. But it’s not backbreaking. I actually love a lot of the things we’re learning about, and my professors really care. Dr. Spinney, whose class is so hard it’s the terror of all PHC freshmen, gave us a pep talk before class a few days ago and shared with us his own struggles as a freshman. They pray for us. They eat lunch with us. They remind us that our worth isn’t based on our grades. And of course, they still assign really hard tests – but that’s what we’re here for, to learn. To be challenged.

Worship and chapel time refresh my soul throughout the week.

And there’s still time – to lead worship, to dance, to play frisbee, to practice piano, to walk in the rain (yes, it rains here!), to stick my camera in pretty bushes.

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To have worship night on the cliffs high above the Shenandoah Valley, down nearby hiking trails.

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To frantically work on papers beside a friend. To make miles of whiteboard notes.

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To explore Purcellville and thank God for other people’s cars and the grocery store right across the street.

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To put things I love all over my room (I didn’t know how much I loved gallery walls before. Also, this picture doesn’t show the massive amount of Tolkien postcards everywhere 🙂 ).

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To make new friends (you would not believe the sheer number of Elizabeths on campus – and I’m friends with all of them!).

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And, wow, I miss the ones left behind. Skype calls with my family are good, but lack the warmth of hugs and life together. Texts with friends far away can’t replicate the laughter, the conversations, the fun times we’ve shared. The home-ache is still deep sometimes. I’m glad it hasn’t gone and that the memories and love are still strong.

This isn’t home yet. But it’s becoming so. And when my life is full of so many glorious homes – how can I do anything but rejoice and live in each of them as fully as I can?

What joy there will be when all of them are one day perfected and brought together.

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Thank you for reading. Thank you for praying for me and supporting me in my college journey. If you’re one of those faraway friends and family, I hope I’ll see you soon.

Writing: Louie Zamperini

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I wrote this speech for an NCFCA (competitive speaking) tournament. It was such a joy to give it throughout last year’s competitive season! It’s a story that I love, so presenting it (though nerve-wracking at times) was one of the highlights of my last year of NCFCA. I wrote it the day before the tournament (not recommended). But God has grace even for procrastinators.

They were falling.

26-year-old airman Louis Zamperini braced himself for impact as the plane, Green Hornet, rolled onto its left side. The pilot wrestled with the controls, fighting to save the plane as it twisted in a deadly nosedive toward the ocean. In the last, horrible seconds before impact, Louie pulled in a final, deep breath and thought: Nobody’s going to survive this.

From the moment I first encountered Louie’s story as told in the biography Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand, I was captivated. Unbroken is the story of a fiery, courageous young man who was by turns a delinquent, Olympian, airman, castaway, prisoner of war, and hero. But the most extraordinary part of his story is what happened in Louie’s heart and mind, when God saved him from an all-consuming hate more deadly than any prison camp. I hope that you will be inspired by his character and courage — but above all, his discovery that only Jesus Christ can bring forgiveness and healing to the darkest reaches of the human heart.

Born in 1917 in Olean, New York, Louis Zamperini, better known as Louie, was a firebrand from the very beginning — a wild boy who fought, smoked, and stole. Years later, he ended most of the stories from his youth with “…and then I ran like mad.

Louie was fast. Desperate to give him an outlet for his energy, his older brother Pete convinced him to join the track team. Though defiant at first, Louie soon fell in love with running and streaked through track season unbeaten, even setting a national high school record. He followed these successes by becoming, at nineteen, the youngest distance runner ever to make the Olympic team.

Though he did not win a medal in the 1936 Olympics, Louie accomplished a feat that earned him worldwide applause. According to Runner’s World, he ran the final lap of his three-mile race in the almost un-heard-of time of 56 seconds.

Louie planned to do even better at the next Olympic Games. But on December 7, 1941, Japanese planes bombed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and the United States officially entered World War 2. The Olympics were canceled, and Louie enlisted as a bombardier in the Army Air Corps.

Louie joined a crew headed up by pilot Russell Phillips, whom he called ‘Phil.’ They became fast friends. Soon, they were transferred to Oahu, where they took part in several successful bombing runs.  But one day, they were assigned to the plane Green Hornet for a rescue mission. Phil protested that the plane wasn’t airworthy — in fact, its parts were often used to repair other planes. But the crew followed orders and reluctantly set off in the droning aircraft.

High over the ocean, Engine 1 suddenly died. Another engine followed, sending the plane into a leftward spiral, directly toward the water. The men braced themselves, clutching their life jackets as the Green Hornet stabbed into the ocean and blew apart.

Louie came to his senses deep underwater.

Wires coiled around his chest. He thrashed around, desperate to free himself, but blacked out as the plane bore him down. Suddenly, he awoke in total darkness. After realizing that he wasn’t dead, he reached out and found that the wires were gone. Moments later, he was gasping for breath as the surface.

He’d survived.

Out of the eleven men who had gone up in the Green Hornet, only Louie, Phil, and one other man, Mac, ever surfaced. Louie took charge and became captain of their small emergency raft.

But days turned into weeks, and no rescue came. As the men’s bodies wasted away, they tried to subsist on rainwater and the occasional fish. During the long, lonely nights, as sharks circled the raft, Louie began to pray for the first time in his life. He vowed that if God would save them, he’d serve Him forever.

On their 27th day adrift, a plane did come — but it was Japanese, and it came to kill. It passed back and forth over the raft, strafing them with bullets. But when the plane finally left, Louie found that by some miracle, despite bullet holes all around and in between them, none of the men had been hit.

Finally, on their forty-seventh day adrift, the castaways struck land. They were in the Japanese-occupied Marshall Islands — they’d drifted over two thousand miles.

The men were captured by Japanese sailors. Louie was separated from the others and soon found himself at a ghastly slave camp outside Tokyo — Omori.

As the new prisoners lined up in front of the camp, a trim, powerful Japanese corporal looked them over. He zeroed in on Louie, who stood tall and straight, eyes blazing.

The man’s name was Mutushiro Watanabe, but the prisoners called him ‘The Bird.’ Of all the camp guards, they feared him the most. He could go from serenity to rage in an instant, even punishing prisoners for disobeying imaginary rules. He hunted those who resisted him with unrelenting cruelty, and as Hillenbrand puts it, “From the moment [he] locked eyes with Louie Zamperini — an inherently defiant man — no one obsessed him more.”

A mania seemed to possess the Bird. Daily, he almost beat Louie into unconsciousness. But when Louie was beaten, he got back up. When the Bird tried to knock him down, he resisted. A battle of wills had begun.

One day, Louie was ordered to lift a heavy wooden beam, about six feet long. Despite his emaciated frame, Louie managed to hoist it over his head. The Bird threatened to beat him if he lowered his arms, so Louie resolved that he would not. Five minutes passed, then ten. Everything began to swim around him, but he held on to a single thought: He cannot break me.

Finally, in frustration, the Bird knocked Louie to the ground, where he lay unconscious. But when he awoke, the other men were crouched beside him, faces lit with awe. He’d held the beam for thirty-seven minutes.

Though Louie outwardly held his ground, the Bird began to loom over him even in his dreams, and he knew that his disease-ravaged body would soon give out. He spent hours in prayer, begging God to save him, and held on to hope that the war would end before the Bird killed him.

The prisoners began to hear bombs falling at night. Whispered rumors passed though the camp that a new weapon had leveled an entire city. Finally, on August 20th, 1945, the camp commander announced that the war was over. The Allies had won.

The men went mad with joy. Louie stood still, only one thought running through his weary mind.

I’m free.

When he finally arrived back home, Louie’s family was surprised. He seemed fine, acted cheerful, and spoke briefly and calmly of the war.

But four years after the war, Louie was no hero.

The Olympic champion who had braved the war and conquered his captivity could not win the battle against himself. He was tormented by dreams of the Bird, flashbacks, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Rage consumed him. Loud noises made him dive for cover under tables. He became obsessed with killing the Bird, and finally satisfying his revenge. Desperate, Louie flung himself into a downward spiral, leaving his new wife, Cynthia, each night to drink himself senseless. He and Cynthia fought bitterly, and she planned a divorce.

But one night, she came home with a new light in her eyes. She’d gone to hear a young minister named Billy Graham, who was preaching in town. She told Louie that she’d been saved, and pestered him to go until, finally, he agreed.

He sat under the huge tent in sullen silence, ignoring the sermon, until Graham said something that caught his attention. “God does not stay silent while good men suffer. He speaks in creation. God works miracles one after another…He says, ‘If you suffer, I’ll give you the grace to go forward.’”

Louie shook in his seat as memories swept over him — the wires wrapped around him had vanished. Bullets had strafed their raft but left them unscathed. He’d survived the Bird’s unthinkable cruelty.

Spooked, Louie jumped up and made for the exit. But suddenly, he was back on the raft, drifting, dying, as he whispered through parched lips, “If You save me, I’ll serve you forever.” As Louie faltered back to reality, he knew that he’d made a promise. He turned toward the stage and started walking.

As he later told The Atlantic, “That night…I asked God to forgive me. While I was still on my knees, I knew there was a change. I felt a perfect peace.” Louie thought back to the war and “…the divine love [that] had intervened to save him. He was not the worthless, broken…man that the Bird had tried to make of him. [Louie] was a new creation.”

A year later, Louie was standing inside Japan’s Sugamo Prison, where the guards who had once tortured him were now imprisoned for their crimes. The only one missing was the Bird. Puzzled, he inquired after him, and was told that the despairing corporal had committed suicide and perished miserably.

Instead of a monster gone to a fitting end, Louie saw a man, a life – irreparably lost.

At that moment, as Hillenbrand tells us, “Something shifted sweetly inside him. It was forgiveness, beautiful and complete. For Louie Zamperini, the war was over.”

His battle won, Louie went on to live a long and happy life, cherishing his wife and children, reuniting with Phil, and remaining adventurous and unstoppable until his death at age 97.

Louie battled his way through near insurmountable odds with courage, hope, and determination. The experiences he went through make him a hero in their own right. But I admire him most for his surrender — for the way his life was transformed when he finally admitted to God that he was helpless to save himself. As the Lord tells us in Revelation 21:5, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Louie’s life proves that God is in the business of renewing this world, ransoming his beloved creation from our own twisted paths, and replacing our sorrow with joy.

Hillenbrand closes Unbroken’s story with a transformed and triumphant Louie.

“On January 2nd, 1998, snow sifted gently over Naoetsu, Japan. Louis Zamperini extended his hand, and in it was placed the Olympic torch. Louie began running — through the place where cages had once held him, where a black-eyed man had crawled inside him. But the cages were long gone, and so was the Bird. There was no trace of them here amid the falling snow, and the old and joyful man, running.”

I hope you enjoyed reading my (very condensed) version of Louie’s life! If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend reading Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken (my main source for this speech) to learn even more about what an amazing man and hero he was. Thank you for reading!

Hello Again

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First of all, if you’re reading this – thank you. This happens to be a deeply heartfelt but inconsistently updated corner of the internet, and so I’m so glad that I finally have the chance to post again!

Life has been full. In the past few months since I last posted, I’ve graduated from high school, spent six amazing weeks as a Frontier Camp counselor (the depth of fellowship and love I experienced there defies description), traveled through England and Scotland with my family (a lifelong dream!), and am now preparing to leave for college in a week!

I’ve been savoring time with my family – snuggles with my little sisters, reading Narnia together at night, traipsing over mountains and through museums together. I’m hanging on to the little things, doing my best to internalize just how good it is to do life with my family. Sometimes my thoughts about them get bogged down in past mistakes or present frustrations. But my family is what really makes home home – and I’m glad I’ll have it to come back to.

I’ve been reading, too – more than I’ve been able to in a while. I re-read The Lord of the Rings while we were in England and almost cried (again) at its sheer, piercing beauty and grief. I just finished C. S. Lewis’ Surprised By Joy, and find myself utterly dumbfounded. It’s just so refreshing to seek out both new friends and old among my bookshelves, not worrying about reading deadlines or reluctantly passing them by because I have schoolwork to do.

All this to say that writing has, in many ways, fallen by the wayside for the past couple months. I’ve poured out a few thoughts into poem fragments or Instagram captions, longing to write more but not having the time or mental energy to do so. I have a few posts planned, though – so Lord willing I’ll be writing more regularly again!

It’s been a good summer, and I’m so grateful for it.

Again, thank you so much for reading! What were you up to this summer? Let me know in the comments!

Abundant Life

Recently, I had the pleasure of writing a guest post for Anna Berens’ blog, Conscious Dreamers. Here’s an excerpt:

“Do you ever feel like God is holding out on you? That Christianity is such a narrow way that it suffocates? Do you wonder if, somewhere out there, is a life of enjoyment and rest that God doesn’t want you to have?

I have never thought those things so bluntly or openly, but sometimes I live that way. Sometimes I feel like following Jesus is only self-denial and drudgery. I keep following, but with dragging feet and a grudging spirit, and my service and self-denial loses all its sweetness. Sometimes I forget the truth.

Jesus Christ came to bring abundant life.”

You can follow this link to read the rest of my post!

Thank you, readers, for your support! It is much appreciated. I hope to have another post up soon!

Running the Race

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It’s Olympic season. People all over the world are on the edge of their seats, watching historic events unfold as athletes push themselves to their limits in hopes of earning a gold medal. Most have spent almost their whole lives training in their sport, sacrificing leisure and comfort in the single-minded pursuit of excellence and possible glory.

It’s truly amazing to see what one person can do when they are wholly devoted to their chosen sport, bent on one purpose. Something about that single-mindedness resonates with us, stirring our souls to be more and better.

As I pondered the Olympics and wondered what it would feel like to be an Olympian athlete, it hit me – as Christians, we are called to be that single-minded in our pursuit of God’s kingdom and the righteousness of Christ.

Paul compares the Christian life to a race in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27:

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way as to obtain the prize. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They do this to receive a perishable crown, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.”

He then make it clear what our prize is in Philippians 3:13-14:

“Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

The Olympians that win their events receive the gold medal they’ve dreamed of. But as Christians, we are called ‘further up and further in’ – to be like Christ, knowing that we will one day see Him face to face and eternally rejoice in His presence – a far greater reward that is, in the words of 1 Peter 1:3-4, “imperishable and undefiled…reserved in heaven for you.”

With this ultimate prize in mind, we are called to follow God with everything we’ve got – our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. “…Not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord,” is the way Paul puts it in Romans 12:11. We are to run the race of our lives ‘so as to win,’ disciplining ourselves to obey God’s commands, persevering through trial, and sharing God’s love with all we meet.

Some days, I am filled with the passion to be like Christ above all else, to serve Him humbly in every situation, and to proclaim His glory. Some days the miles fall quickly and easily behind me.

But if you’re anything like me, sometimes your zeal for the Lord dies down and wavers. More often, I lose sight of my goal amid the weight of duties and commitments. I forget that I am called to ‘run my race with excellence’ not just on mission trips or during service projects, but also in mundane tasks like doing schoolwork or taking care of my siblings.

I settle for good enough and getting by.

I stumble in my race. Sometimes I fall.

But as Christians, we have a great Forerunner, Jesus Christ, who has experienced the same temptations and struggles as we do, yet stayed the course and completed it perfectly. He offers us grace, forgiveness and encouragement. When we stay in communion with Him through scripture, worship, and prayer, He gives us His strength and sets us on the right course. We can continue running the race.

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 12:1-2

Onward and upward, then, for His glory!

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I’m sorry for the long gaps between posts – I absolutely love sharing my thoughts here, but life is extremely busy at the moment, and sometimes I sit down to write and the words just won’t come. I hope that you enjoyed this post, and since I have about six posts in progress, hopefully you’ll see more from me soon!

Is Fantasy Literature Worth Reading?

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In a world fraught with problems and harsh realities, does fantasy literature matter? Or is it mere escapism and time-wasting?

There are varying positions on this question, even within my own family. My mom has a hard time engaging with something that is not real. My dad and I, on the other hand, can talk about Tolkien and Lewis and their respective worlds for hours. While our love for fantasy literature has rubbed off on her, in some ways, and she’ll join in on our conversations, we’ll always think about it a little differently.

I think fantasy literature is a powerful way of telling stories that, while not ‘real’ per se, still demonstrate truth and important concepts in a way that other genres cannot. I could wax lyrical on the subject (and perhaps I will in another post, sometime), but for now, I’m excited to share with y’all a speech that my amazing sister, Catherine, wrote on this topic.

Here’s her introduction:

“‘In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.’ (The Hobbit) Most of us recognize these iconic lines from The Hobbit, in which J.R.R. Tolkien unveils a world very different, yet in some ways similar to our own. The Hobbit falls into the literary genre of Fantasy, one that is both praised and criticized by readers. Fantasy, like Fairy Tales, usually incorporates some magical element, but unlike Fairy Tales, the setting of the story is often in an alternative world. Because of its fictional nature, critics often dismiss tales of this genre as mere escapism, or distraction and relief from unpleasant realities.  But good Fantasy is so much more. Fantasy is worth reading because it can reveal truth, and can inspire us to live by the Truth and for the Truth.”

The rest of her speech is just as good (in fact, better – since this is only the introduction!). I encourage you to go read the rest of it here: https://creatingfantasyblog.wordpress.com/2018/02/05/the-power-and-purpose-of-fantasy-literature/.

My favorite quote from her speech:

“When I first read The Lord of the Rings, I was inspired by the adventures and trials of the characters, whether they were a hobbit gardener or the heir to a kingdom, because even if there was no hope of winning, at each moment they stood and fought. They fought knowing that they were protecting the places and people they loved. Stories like these always stir an ache inside me, a desire to adventure and conquer, to draw a sword and charge into the fight against the enemy, and to protect all that is good.”

I whole-heartedly agree.

I hope that you’ll enjoy reading her speech and perhaps learning something new about the value of fantasy. Hopefully, you’ll also be hearing from me again soon in another post!