Last week I only had 10 unread books in my possession, so of course I set out to buy a few more. I went to Barnes and Noble in search of Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis. The Christian fiction section is shoved in the back corner of the store and takes up about half an aisle. They only had three C.S. Lewis novels, which I’m pretty sure should be a felony. I shrugged it off and thought, “Eh, I’ll just find another book.” So I started looking around and saw one of the most horrific sights I have ever beheld: almost all of the Christian fiction books were romances with pictures of women wearing bonnets on the covers, most of them standing in a prairie during sunset. Having a farm house in the background seemed optional.
As a Christian fiction writer, I have become painfully aware of the fact that Christian writing (much like Christian film) has some major problems. The topics tend to range from country girl romance to allegorical stories with talking animal (C.S. Lewis can make this amazing, not every good-intentioned knuckle-head who picks up a pen), the writing is usually mediocre, and they almost all tend to get a bit preachy at times.
I’m not demeaning the genre, I’m just saying that it needs more ambition and work, just like YA fiction could use some help, too.
I used to think that all of the world-class religious writers had died and taken the secrets to good Christian writing with them. But not quite. There are still several amazing Christian fiction authors out there, one of my favorites being Randy Alcorn.
I’ve read several of his books, such as Edge of Eternity, The Chasm, and If God is Good. But, in my eyes, Safely Home still remains his best work. Don’t know what it’s about? Good. I was hoping I’d get to tell you:
“Stop smiling!” Two words the prison guard always yells at Li Quan as he passes by his cell.
A brilliant Harvard graduate, Li Quan works as an assistant locksmith in China. He makes little money, but refuses to renounce his faith in order to be considered eligible to teach at a Chinese university. To his old colleague Ben Fielding, a rich American business executive successful in everything except family and happiness, Li Quan has nothing. But when he is jailed for helping run an illegal house church, Ben begins to realize that this is not entirely true.
“Stop smiling!” The guard is insistent that Quan sits in his cell and beams, though his lips never curve into a smile.
Ben tries his hardest to get his old friend out of prison, but to no avail. Deciding to look after Quan’s wife and son until he is released from jail, Ben soon has the uncomfortable realization that this poor and persecuted Chinese family has more to offer him than he to them. They have something special; an intense love for each other, a crazy and persistent hope in the midst of suffering. A joy that comes from a faith in something far bigger than Ben can comprehend.
He can keep the smile from his lips, but he cannot keep that look out of his eyes. “Stop smiling.” A command that Li Quan cannot obey.
I can’t even begin to tell you how much I love this book. Sure, it gets a bit preachy sometimes and it might seem like the cliché “Christian persecution” and “rich but unhappy business man gets saved” novel. And maybe it is.
But some authors can take unoriginal ideas and make them sparkle. Randy Alcorn is one of these. He also knows how to write a story that makes a person think.
When I first read this book, I immediately thought, “Wow. Those Chinese Christians really have it tough. I never feel persecuted. I must not be doing enough.”
But now I realize that’s not what this book was trying to say. We don’t all have to move to China or get thrown in jail for our faith. We all have different tasks to do on this earth. Some can be as “simple” and unassuming as being kind to the people around us even when we don’t feel like it, or working hard even if we’re not particularly fond of our jobs. Or being a friend to that person nobody else wants to get near.
We just have to decide what to do with the time that has been given to us. Make
Gandalf God proud.
I don’t want to get to the end and realize that I let all of the small opportunities to live for God pass me by because I was waiting for “the big one.” When I get safely home, I want to be able to say that I gave my entire life to God. And I’m realizing that I don’t need to go to China to do that.
A scene that I especially love in Safely Home is when Li Quan talks about how he once was able to buy his family an orange (a rarity in his neighborhood) for Christmas. That was it. Just one orange. But the Quan family saw it as an amazing blessing. You see, it wasn’t the size of the gift that mattered. It was the amount of love and labor that went into procuring it.
So whenever I think that I’m not doing enough, whenever I get dissatisfied with my life, I think of oranges. It doesn’t matter if what I’m doing isn’t as much as others. It only matters that what I'm doing is a lot for me.
That’s why the dish I came up with is centered around oranges. I made a stir fry with orange sauce and a citrus mint iced green tea. Check it out:
- ½ cup of brown rice
- 1 cup of water
- ½ of a lemon
- 2 medium carrots, chopped (this should come to about 1 cup)
- 1 cup of broccoli florets (stems removed)
- 1 medium zucchini, sliced
- 2 green onions, chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
- ½ teaspoon of ginger, minced. If you’ve never used ginger before, you do have to peel it before you use it. To do this, I use a spoon instead of a knife. This video shows how.
Ingredients for the sauce –
- ½ cup of fresh squeezed orange juice
- 1 teaspoon of orange zest
- ¼ cup of rice vinegar
- 1 and ½ tablespoons of coconut amino’s, tamari, or soy sauce. I prefer coconut aminos or tamari. Soy sauce is too mainstream. Plus, coconut aminos and tamari are much better for you than soy.
- 3 tablespoons of cornstarch mix for thickener (1 and ½ tablespoons of cornstarch and 1 and ½ tablespoons of water)
- 1/8 teaspoon of chili flakes
- ¼ cup of coconut sugar
- 1/8 cup of water
- ¼ teaspoon of ginger, shredded
1. In a small sauce pan, add rice, 1 cup of water, and squeeze in half of a lemon. Let it sit for 3 to 4 hours. This is basically the only way I’ve found to get brown rice to taste good. Of course you don’t have to use brown rice, even though it’s better for you. You can use jasmine or sticky rice, just be prepared to die young. If you do decide to use brown rice, juts add a bit of salt and some olive oil after it’s done soaking. Bring to a boil then cover, turn it to low, and let it cook for 30 minutes.
2. While you’re waiting for the rice to finish cooking, it might be a good idea to chop up all of your vegetables. I did, and it’s super helpful and makes me feel very put together:
If only I could get my room to be that organized.
3. Mix all of the ingredients for the sauce together in a sauce pan. Bring to a boil and then allow it to simmer. It should thicken enough for it to coat the back of a spoon.
4. In a wok or large pan, put a bit of oil (I used sesame, but olive would work, too) in the bottom and sauté the crushed cloves of garlic and the ½ teaspoon of ginger.
5. Add the broccoli and about ¼ cup of water. Sauté for a few minutes or until the florets are dark green. Then add the carrots, green onion, and zucchini. Add the sauce and cook for about three more minutes, stirring frequently.
6. Serve over rice to soak up the extra sauce.
In case you’re wondering how I got 1 cup of rice and some vegetables to fill up that huge bowl, there’s a fun story to that. I don’t own any Asian style bowls, so I ran over to my neighbor’s house to see if she had any. She was super sweet about it and didn’t look at me weird when I showed up on her doorstep asking if she had any “Chinese-looking bowls.” She let me borrow this bamboo one, but it was too big, so I stuck a plastic lid in it to give it a false bottom. Worked like a charm for the photo shoot.
But by the time I finished taking pictures, I was super hungry and decided to just leave the food in the huge bowl while I ate instead of transferring it to a smaller dish. I ended up looking like a glutton:
But who cares? I had fun.
Now for the next recipe:
Now for the next recipe:
- 3 cups of water
- 3 green tea bags. Green tea popped up continually throughout this book. After all, it is set in China.
- ¼ cup of fresh mint leaves. If you don't like mint, just leave it out. It'll taste good.
- 2 slices of orange
- 2 slices of lemon
- 1 tablespoon of honey
1. Bring water to a boil. Once boiling, turn off and add the tea bags. Let steep for five minutes.
2. Add mint leaves, orange, lemon, and let steep for fifteen more minutes.
3. Remove mint and citrus slices. Stir in a tablespoon of honey.
4. Allow it to cool, then serve over ice.
I got a kick out of making this dish, partly because I like Asian food, but mainly because it’s cool to create a recipe that seems like it belongs in one of my favorite novels.
While I was cooking, I started thinking about Safely Home and realizing how much Randy Alcorn’s writing has influenced both the way I write and the way I live. It made me think of oranges and the small yet special gifts I can give. It made me think of Christian fiction and how maybe it’s not such a hopeless case after all.
And I like that. I like books that make me think. Rather, I like books that change the way I think.
What about you? Have you read this book? What did it make you think about?