A Look into the Life and Legacy of J.R.R.Tolkien

The greatest adventure is what lies ahead.
Today and tomorrow are yet to be said.
The chances, the changes are all yours to make.
The mold of your life is in your hands to break.

“The Father of Modern Fantasy,” John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (BBC News)

Today, nobody stumbles over the name “Tolkien” in the English-speaking world, but back in 1962, when I was in junior high, it was all news to me! The Lord of the Rings was just becoming popular in America, and one of my closest friends, Danny Green, kept me fascinated as he reported day by day what he’d read about the little Hobbit who had to leave his cozy home and go adventuring to save Middle Earth. Since those days, Tolkien’s series has ranked as one of the most popular fiction works of the twentieth century!

Fifty-five years later, I’ve still not read Tolkien’s fantasy books for myself, but I was delighted to watch the recently released movie, Tolkien, based on the youth and formative years of this brilliant and dedicated scholar!

There is so much I didn’t know about Tolkien, and almost everything I learned has made me admire him more than ever! Tolkien lived in Britain and was orphaned at a young age. He was among those who had to make his way in the world through sheer grit . . . for Tolkien—hard work, wisdom, and unending, passionate drive.

At a young age, he fell in love with another orphan, and the movie records their very sweet relationship. (Although, as in all good romances, there were many challenges, twists, and uncertainties.)

Because of his brilliance as a student and the care of the Catholic priest who was his guardian, Tolkien was eventually allowed to attend Oxford, where he succeeded in becoming fast friends with several of his classmates. (This was no easy feat, either! My father, who attended Harvard for graduate school—also in philology—as a young man during the Great Depression, found it very difficult trying to fit in with the wealthy elite without the trappings of material privilege.)

Perhaps the most difficult part of Tolkien’s journey was his military service during World War 1. The movie is PG-13, so the war scenes—though terrifying and disheartening—are not about the gore but rather to give us a feel for the intense suffering and emotional trauma that all soldiers experienced.

Did he survive the war? Did he get to marry the girl of his dreams? Did he get to finish his studies? When and how did he become so famous? All great questions, and most of them were answered in this wonderful depiction of his life!

The very best aspect of the movie (for me) was the goodness of Tolkien’s character throughout (in stark contrast to most stories you hear about the “bright young things” of his era). Sometimes people are so bright and shiny with goodness that it just makes you wonder why, so I studied more of his life from Wikipedia. There I discovered the reason: He had a “deeply religious spirit.” As Tolkien explained: “The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision.”

Sign in the Eagle and Child Restaurant, Oxford

Ah, ha! Yes, I did know of the connection between Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, and the good spiritual influence Tolkien had been on Lewis, helping him come to faith. It was C.S. Lewis who later wrote Mere Christianity . . . the book that influenced both my mother and my dear aunt, “Lant Henna,” to believe in Christ many years hence!

Alan and I even made a bit of a “pilgrimage” to Oxford’s Eagle and Child (pub/restaurant where their literary group, The Inklings, met) with two of our sons (one of whom is now an editor and aspiring writer himself). So, we have a very personal experience of being inspired and edified by the works of both J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.

So, thank you Tolkien, and thank you to those of you who gifted us with this great movie! I hope many people see it and find the story uplifting and encouraging!

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works,
and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

Until Forever

“Live Until You Die!”

That’s the message of this incredibly inspiring true love story called Until Forever (2016 version), which is based on the lives of Michael and Michelle Boyum and their enduring love as teenagers and young adults dealing with Michael’s diagnosis of leukemia.

If I didn’t know someone with a similarly buoyant spirit, it would be hard to imagine anybody as sweet, faith-filled, and steady as this young man, but in reality, I know Tom F., who has also been through the wringer with leukemia and is every bit as kind and outreaching, so I know a few of these treasures exist!

Like my friend Tom, Michael always had the needs of others at the forefront of his thinking, and even during his hospital stays, he was busy reaching out to others with encouragement and the love of Jesus!

Jamie Anderson as Matt Boyum

Until Forever doesn’t shy away from the painful realities of how a cancer diagnosis effects everyone who loves the patient. In Michael’s case, his younger brother was severely effected,

Joel Jacobsen as Ben

as were many friends from his church family. (I loved the inclusion of this sweet young man!)

Madison Lawlor as Michelle Larson

Equally miraculous to Michael’s radiant spirit was the response of Michael’s girlfriend, Michelle, who refused to give up and stood by his side despite all the pain, insecurities, and sufferings that Michael endured. (Tom’s wife, Lynnie, is actually just as beautiful and wonderful as Michelle is, as depicted in the movie, so I have no trouble believing such devotion and faith exist!)

Here is a photo of the “real” Michael and Michelle (shown in the final credits of the movie). I truly believe only God can produce a love like theirs!

Well, I don’t want to ruin the story by telling you everything, but it’s one of the most moving movies I’ve seen in a long time, full of faith in the midst of fear

and triumph in the midst of tragedy.

If you are struggling with fear and tragedy, please take the time to watch this movie! It is possible to experience hope and peace in the midst of any illness.

For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” (1 John 5:4).

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:1-5, ESV).

unPlanned

Two days ago I had the pleasure of an unplanned visit with the gaffer for the newly released movie, Unplanned. (John is my son Dan’s brother-in-law.) Have you seen it?

It’s the gripping true story of the experience of Abby Johnson, who personally had two abortions and then became an activist for Planned Parenthood . . . until she actually witnessed an abortion. Until. What about you? Do you have any opinion about whether or not abortion is a reasonably good option for ending an unwanted pregnancy? If you think abortion might be the best and easiest option, please PLEASE watch Unplanned.

It’s rated R, probably for blood visuals related to some abortion problems, but I think it is valuable for anyone who is exposed to sexual contact . . . or for sure by high school age. Does it make sense that any girl—who is under 18 can have sex, get pregnant, and have an abortion without parental consent—should be restricted from seeing a movie that discusses the issues surrounding abortion? I’d say “NO!”

I grew up in a liberal home and didn’t blink an eye at over the issue. I figured that if anybody ever raped me, I’d have an abortion. However, my husband, Alan (who was usually more liberal than I was on “political issues”), said he thought it was wrong and that if I was ever raped and impregnated, he would prefer that I kept the baby rather than getting an abortion. I was totally shocked, but it also made me rethink my position. During medical school, as part of his training, Alan observed an abortion. His response was similar to that of Abby Johnson’s. He was horrified and sickened. He never wanted to be witness to an abortion again, and he felt that he had watched the undeniable killing of a helpless infant that resisted with all its tiny being having its life snuffed out.

After Alan began practice, he discovered that he had patients who even into their eighties were still haunted by their experience of having aborted a baby early in life. The regret and shame seemed never ending. He has been a strong proponent for being pro-life ever since, and so am I.

But, what about the millions of women who have aborted babies? Is there no relief for them from having an aching heart and a bad conscience?

Yes! There is no sin outside the grace of God, nor are any of us without sin, we just sin in different ways. In fact, the Bible is clear that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). That’s why Jesus died: to provide a way to be forgiven for our sins: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17, ESV).

If you have had an abortion, are considering having an abortion, or know someone who is struggling with abortion issues, please consider watching Unplanned. It will make you sad, but it also offers hope and healing! God is here, and He loves us!

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11 ESV). “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand” (Proverbs 19:21 ESV).

Loving Even The Least of These

On the topic of loving our enemies, the new 2019 movie, The Least of These,

is a horrific account of one cataclysmic clash between radical Hindus and Christians in India just twenty years ago, in January of 1999.

Based on the life story of Graham and Gladys Staines, who were missionaries from Australia caring for a leper colony in Odisha, The Least of These traces the life and legacy of the Gaines family, who spent forty years caring for the needs of the least-of-the-least untouchables cast out from society because of their leprosy.

I don’t want to tell the end from the beginning, but it is a heart-rending movie.

Gladys retired in 2004, and the following year, she was awarded the Padma Shree in India in recognition of her work among the lepers.

In 2016, Gladys also received the Mother Teresa Memorial International Award for Social Justice.

The movie was shot on location in 2012, although it took many years to produce and was just released in America this year.

If you’re looking for an inspiring example of the love of Christ, you will appreciate this movie. (Because of the content, I do not recommend it for children. I think the PG-13 rating is exactly right.)

Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).

The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

It’s a Wonderful Life for Tony and Shellie

It’s a Wonderful Life is still a beloved classic more than 75 years after its release, and I think this is because it honors the life experience of those noble “unsung heroes” who sacrificed their personal ambitions for the sake of love and family, and today I want to share the true story of a couple who’ve lived out the best of It’s a Wonderful Life right here in Grand Rapids, Michigan! (We share grandchildren! 🙂 )

It’s A Wonderful Life (1946), IMDb 8.6 rating after 358,517 reviews!

For those of you who are under 50 or didn’t grow up in America, in a nutshell, It’s a Wonderful Life tells the story of a young man who had dreams of travel, adventure, and seeking his fortune far away from his home town!

However, as life would have it, he ended up returning home, marrying a wonderful woman, rearing a family, and being an honorable and caring member of his community despite the fact that he never became rich or famous.

He was the epitome of the All-American Boy that everybody wants to be, although most Americans suffer under the delusion that there might be something more out there and struggle to find contentment with their normal, happy lives.

Except for that last part (about struggling to find contentment), Tony and Shellie’s story is very much the same. Tony was drafted as soon as he graduated from college. He ranked #2 out of 1,000 young men in boot camp and was offered a position at West Point, but he turned it down so that he would only have to serve two (rather than four) years in the army.

So, instead of pursuing a bright career in the military, he became an X-ray tech, (although during his service at Fort Sam Houston, he X-rayed Lyndon B. Johnson, so he had some pretty interesting opportunities at any rate! 🙂 ).

After his stint in the military, he began pursuing graduate school and won a Fulbright scholarship to study in Austria. However, just when he was supposed to leave, his mother needed major gall bladder surgery. Because Tony’s father had passed away when Tony was only nine, he felt a special responsibility for his mother, so he sacrificed his prestigious and exciting opportunity abroad in order to return home and care for her during her long, difficult recovery.

Tony had trained to be a teacher, but there were no teaching jobs available in Grand Rapids at that time, so he found a job as an X-ray tech at the local hospital where he could earn money to care for his mother. This month, he retired after over 50 years as an X-ray tech, and during those years, he took X-rays on more than 250,000 patients!

Tony married a wonderful girl and settled down in a lovely little house, where they have lived for their entire marriage. They both wanted a large family, and Tony wanted lively conversations around the table.

Family Christmas Photo 2017

They have ten beautiful sons and daughters, and all but four of them are married so far. They have over a dozen grandchildren with several more on the way. Shellie’s mother had 12 children and 71 grand children (36 of whom were adopted). I can imagine that Tony and Shellie may have a similar number some day!! 🙂

And yes, they have very lively conversations around the their table!

However, there’s one huge difference between their story and that of George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life! Whereas George became suicidal on Christmas Eve because he felt like his life hadn’t made enough of a difference in this world, Tony and Shellie have the sweet presence of Jesus in their lives, filling them with faith, hope, peace, and joy.

Tony became an ordained minister, and they have served the Lord together for many years. Among other things, both of them teach Sunday school, and Tony is on the elder board. All their children love the Lord and walk with Him.

They may not be rich and famous in the eyes of the world, but they are incredibly blessed, and they know it!

They don’t need a vision from an angel to teach them about true values! Tony’s favorite song is “Be Thou My Vision,” and Shellie’s is “Give Me Jesus.”

Family Christmas Photo 2019

If you’re struggling to find meaning and purpose in life, sure—watch It’s a Wonderful Life. According to Wikipedia, it’s “one of the greatest movies of all time,” is considered “one of the best American films ever made,” and is listed as #1 on “the most inspirational American films of all time.”

But the real secret to contentment is to give your life to Jesus and live your life for Jesus. “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness” (Isaiah 41:10).

“Give Me Jesus”
(—Jeremy Camp)

In the morning, when I rise
In the morning, when I rise
In the morning, when I rise, give me Jesus

Give me Jesus,
Give me Jesus,
You can have all this world,
But give me Jesus

When I am alone
When I am alone
When I am alone, give me Jesus

Give me Jesus,
Give me Jesus,
You can have all this world,
But give me Jesus

When I come to die
When I come to die
When I come to die, give me Jesus

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VFJGsBApIuk

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

“At least I can’t die young anymore! Guess I can scratch that off my bucket list,” Brian grinned just before blowing out the candles on his birthday cake. Not that he really had dying young ON his bucket list, but he IS the oldest known survivor of his type of treatment for his particular type of cancer, which he was diagnosed with when he was only 27. (Very scary to me personally, because my youngest son was 27 yesterday.)

Brian never dreamed he’d make it to his 60th birthday (and frankly, I wasn’t so sure either), so it was with a sense of grateful joy and awe that our Birthday Club treated Brian to a very special birthday party yesterday!

Where to take him? That was easy! The day before he was born, his mother and father were at the John Ball Zoo, and his mom started having contractions, so Brian says he was “almost born at the zoo!”

Brian only visited the zoo once in his life, on his 10th birthday, and he remembered being fascinated by the antics of the otters. Since he hasn’t been back in 50 years, he thought visiting the zoo would be the perfect way to spend his day!

Of course, we wanted to see everything (and pretty much did), but—you know—like everybody, we wanted to make sure we saw “the lions,

the (sleeping? oh, no!) tigers
and (SLEEPING!! 😦 ) bears. Oh, no!”

But, there was no shortage of excitement and fun, including a few “firsts” for Brian, such as petting a goat

and taking a ride on a funicular. (Not sure they were on his bucket list as such, but he thoroughly enjoyed the new experiences!)

We also made a new friend: Herbie! Herbie is 34 and one of the oldest Magellanic penguins in captivity in the world. Herbie’s fur is almost all grey, and he seemed content to swim on the surface, but he was still swimming! It was a little hard not to miss some of the similarities between our new and old friends. Very touching.

Oh, but I wanted to tell you about how teamwork makes the dream work! In this photo, you see Susan in a wheel chair! She turned her ankle helping one of her daughters the day before our outing. Thankfully, her beloved husband took a day off work to help us get the dream team around!

An aphorism of their son-in-law, Seth’s (so we call it a Sethism), is that “teamwork makes the dream work.” I don’t know who said it first, so if you know, please let us know, but . . .isn’t this a clever truism?

And, isn’t God good!? Brian was never able to marry or have a family. His father died several years ago, and his mother passed away 23 weeks ago to the day. But, he has us. He has a family of brothers and sisters in Christ to love him and appreciate him. Brian is a real prayer warrior! He can’t travel much, but he never misses a prayer meeting via telephone for the church on Sunday morning, and he’s never missed a single Monday night prayer meeting for my son Jonathan’s ministry.

He’s knitted booties for all our grand kids, always smiles, and always says it’s too early to start complaining (although he could well have started 33 years ago).

I hope his story brightens your day. It certainly brightened ours!

God setteth the solitary in families: he bringeth out those which are bound with chains: but the rebellious dwell in a dry land” (Psalm 68:6).

Forgiveness: A Grace Disguised

One of the most emotionally fragrant books I’ve ever experienced is A Grace Disguised, written by Jerry Sittser as a reflection on his experiences of losing his mother, his wife, and his daughter all in one fatal crash when a drunken man plowed into their car. The title includes “how the soul grows through loss.” I can’t begin to explain how inspirational and nurturing this book was to me, but I can just say, “Think about reading it!” (I have a copy if you live in the Grand Rapids area and would like to borrow it.) It’s a short book that walks you through his family’s life, their death, and his struggle to survive and establish a new life following this unthinkable tragedy. (He was left with three small children to rear alone!) Jerry is very open about the raw pain and excruciating process, but grace shines out all around like beams of light radiating from behind thunderheads. In fact, grace undergirds the story like a brilliant silver lining under black clouds, leaving the reader (me) with a deep peace in knowing that God was there through it all, steady and unchanging behind the storm.

The book is too full of wrestlings and wisdom to try a thorough review, but the single most moving chapter to me was his learning to forgive and his thoughts on the power and importance of forgivenesss. I’d like to quote the whole chapter, but let me just quote a couple of ideas. He starts by describing how he had a desire for revenge. “The real problem, however, is not revenge itself but the unforgiving heart behind revenge. Unforgiveness is like fire that smolders in the belly, like smoke that smothers the soul. It is destructive because it is insidious. Occasionally it flares up in the form of bitter denunciation and explosions of rage. But most of the time it is content to stay low to the ground, where it goes unnoticed, quietly doing its deadly work” (p. 136).

The problem, then, is to learn how to forgive, even if the offender has not repented and asked forgiveness (as his alcoholic offender never did). “Unforgiveness makes a person sick by projecting the same scene of pain into the soul day after day, as if it were a videotape that never stops. Every time the scene is replayed, he or she relives the pain and becomes angry and bitter all over again. That repetition pollutes the soul. Forgiveness requires that we refuse to play the videotape and choose to put it on the shelf. We remember the painful loss; we are aware of who is responsible. But, we do not play it over and over again. Instead, we play other tapes that bring healing to us. Thus, forgiveness not only relieves an offender from guilt; it also heals us from our sickness of soul” (144).

Sittser goes on to point out that forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting (which we’ll never be able to do anyway). He grapples with his anger at God, too: “I held God responsible for my circumstances. I placed my confidence in him; I also argued with him. In any case, God played the key role” (147).


“Faith also changes our attitude about the people who wrong us, for it forces us to view their wrongdoing in the light of our own. Knowledge of God reveals knowledge of ourselves as well. We learn that we bear the image of God, but we also see that we are sinful. Sinful people need God’s forgiveness. Jesus once said that people who are forgiven much love much. The experience of forgiveness makes us forgiving. Once we see ourselves as people who need God’s mercy, we will be more likely to show mercy to others” (147).

Well, I can’t explain the book very well, but if you have suffered a great loss in your life and struggle to forgive, please consider reading Sittser’s story! As a supporting P.S of his life—I discovered that Sittser was teaching in Spokane, Washington, when the accident occurred. As I have a son who was also teaching in Spokane, Washington, I asked him if he knew Jerry Sittser. “Yes! We’ve had lunch together!” So, Jerry Sittser continues to thrive academically and spiritually, even years later!

While trying to prepare this, I was also touched by this wonderful consideration in the daily devotional that my son Joel gave me for Christmas (and we read together at the breakfast table):

“The final test of compassionate prayer goes beyond prayers for fellow Christians, members of the community, friends, and relatives. Jesus says it most unambiguously, ‘I say this to you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’ (Matthew 5:44); and in the depth of his agony on the cross, he prays for those who are killing him, ‘Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.’ (Luke 23:34). Here the full significance of the discipline of prayer becomes visible. Prayer allows us to lead into the center of our hearts not only those who love us but also those who hate us. This is possible only when we are willing to make our enemies part of ourselves and thus convert them first of all in our own heart” (Henri J.M. Nouwen, You Are The Beloved, May 19).