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Heavy books, lifted spirits

Beach readers do not live by light books alone

Heavy books, lifted spirits
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In the waning hours of a warm afternoon in Sunset Beach, N.C., a friendly woman in a floppy hat approached my beach chair on a mission. She had been sitting in a nearby spot all week and was curious: What book had absorbed me every day?

When I hoisted a sandy copy of David McCullough’s 700-page biography John Adams, her face flashed a mixture of bewilderment and mild sympathy: This was beach entertainment?

Beach reading is a personal luxury, and I always enjoy watching fellow vacationers dig into whatever they prefer: Kindles, crosswords, paperbacks, magazines, and even the occasional hardback packed with a highlighter.

I usually stop short of the highlighter, but I don’t mind lugging a bulky volume in a bulging beach bag: Even on vacation, weighty books can soar the spirit.

In 2015, I tucked into my low-slung chair near my John Adams spot and dug into McCullough’s delightful account of The Wright Brothers. It seemed fitting to sit on a North Carolina beach and read about the famous siblings testing their earliest glider on the Outer Banks a few hours up the coast.

The Wright brothers weren’t sipping Coke Zero or occasionally dozing during their considerably more rustic beach trips in the fall of 1900. But as I read about how they studied the aerodynamics of sea gulls and tweaked the mechanics of their first flyer, I’d peer overhead and watch the gulls still bobbing effortlessly in the wind.

Occasionally, a plane would fly over the ocean, and I’d ponder how a pair of men a century ago created a monumental invention by observing God’s creation. The Wright brothers’ hard work displayed how people made in the image of their Creator reflect His image by becoming mini-creators themselves. God’s glory shines in birds, in planes—and in books that describe them.

God’s glory also shown brightly in For the Glory—my 2016 beach read about Olympic runner and missionary Eric Liddell. Author Duncan Hamilton describes Liddell’s inspiring 1924 Olympic gold medal run, after the athlete forfeited his best event to honor the Sabbath day.

When I glanced at the North Carolina coast stretching in front of me, I could imagine Liddell running down another beach with abandon in a famous Chariots of Fire scene.

But the most glorious part of Liddell’s life was the part less seen. After the Olympics, Liddell returned to China—where he had been born to missionary parents—to take up missionary work of his own.

As war loomed, he sent his wife and children to Canada but resolved to stay in his post. Eventually, he and many other foreigners landed in Japanese internment camps in dismal conditions.

Surviving camp members describe Liddell’s service as extraordinary. Despite immense suffering and deprivation, Liddell organized church services, schoolrooms, and prayer meetings. He counseled strangers, gave up his own food, and took on the hardest chores for the weakest prisoners.

Liddell died of an undiagnosed brain tumor hours after conducting a Bible study from his deathbed. The body of the athlete once hoisted onto the shoulders of fellow Olympians was now placed in a gnarled coffin and lifted by beleaguered camp members he loved to the end. Liddell had finished the race set before him.

Liddell is paraded around Edinburgh University after winning the 400 meters at the 1924 Paris Olympics.

Liddell is paraded around Edinburgh University after winning the 400 meters at the 1924 Paris Olympics. Firmin/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

How did he excel under such harrowing conditions in the last half of his short life? In part, by following the same rule he said helped him complete races: “I run the first 200 meters as hard as I can. Then, for the second 200 meters, with God’s help—I run harder.”

Inspiring words—even while on vacation. It’s a gift to read about the service of others and then return to the callings God gives us. For many of us, God made us to love words. And when we read, we feel His pleasure.

–Please read the next page in this issue’s special Summer Reading section: "Friends and enemies"

Jamie Dean

Jamie is a journalist and the former national editor of WORLD Magazine. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and also previously worked for The Charlotte World. Jamie resides in Charlotte, N.C.


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