Genius and Insanity

One of the most fascinating movies I saw in 2019 was The Professor and the Madman, a biographical drama colored by mystery and murder . . . but most of all—pathos.

This moving drama records the appointment and passion of James Murray, who was hired to finish compiling and editing the first comprehensive dictionary of the English language, known today as The Oxford English Dictionary. Professor James Murray, a brilliant, self-taught linguist who spoke six languages and had a working understanding of at least fourteen more, became obsessed with the project, which burgeoned into a phenomenally difficult (and practically speaking, virtually impossible) job.

The project was begun in 1857; Murray was hired for ten years starting in 1879; but, in reality, the dictionary was not printed in its complete form until 1928, more than seventy years after the project was first envisioned!

First, I want to share a few “fun facts” about languages I’ve learned through studying, and then I want to share a few thoughts about the movie. There are more than 6,500 languages spoken throughout the world, but almost half the world’s people speak primarily 10 of them: English, Mandarin Chinese, Hindi, Spanish, French, Standard Arabic, Bengali, Russian, Portuguese, and Indonesian. Among these languages, English is the most spoken language in the world, and it’s also the Number One trade language around the world, so it’s worth learning! English is “the language of the sky,” and every pilot must be able to identify themselves and communicate in English.

Jennifer Ehle as Mrs. Ada Murray, Dr. Murray’s wife

Interestingly enough, English is also considered by many to be the language with the most words/meanings, although that’s hard to define. English has over a million words if you count the various meanings of each given word. For instance, the newest edition of the Oxford English Dictionary takes 60,000 words to define the 430 various usages of “set.” Also, the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) defines 616,500 words, but there are hundreds of thousands of words that are not included, many scientific or borrowed from other languages but not in common enough use to be considered uniquely English, various forms of slang, compound words, and on and on! If you count tenses, plurals, etc, the list goes on seemingly ad infinitum (or at least ad nauseam).

Hope you didn’t mind that rabbit trail, but all this to highlight both the importance and the difficulty of the task assigned to Professor James Murray!

As another side light, the movie had an exceptionally gifted cast, including Mel Gibson and Sean Penn, and the film was done with painstaking care to detailing the truth (except concerning the madman’s romance), stunning cinematography, artistic sensitivity while retaining historical integrity, and a deeply moving theme of seeking redemption.

The movie was the brainchild of Mel Gibson, and he took more than twenty years in research and development, but it ended as a painful disappointment to him, which seems tragic but almost fitting, since Professor Murray never saw the completion of his beloved dictionary.

I don’t want to spoil the story and suspense, but the underlying pathos of the movie concerns the brilliant help that Professor Murray receives from Dr. William Minor, a retired American army surgeon who helped with the completion of over 10,000 entries but was in the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum and considered criminally insane. Among other provocative themes, The Professor and the Madman has stirred me to even greater compassion for the mentally ill.

The “Madman” is haunted by the need to somehow redeem himself and find forgiveness for sins. What he does in the movie is beautiful, and I loved learning the story, but there was also a deep sadness that I don’t think God intends. Sin is terrible, and terribly wrong, but there is no sin beyond the reach of God’s forgiveness. Although we have to live with the regrets and scars from our sins, God invites us to seek forgiveness and reconciliation. When it comes to giving and receiving forgiveness, we can extend forgiveness to those who’ve hurt us, but we can only humbly accept forgiveness from those we’ve hurt. Most of the time, no amount of effort can take away the pain and loss (although we should do everything we can to restore and make right the wrongs we’ve committed).

In the final analysis, our sins can only be atoned for by the blood of Christ, who died to pay the penalty of death we deserve. By accepting his sacrificial death in our place, we receive eternal life through Him. That will not “settle the score” between ourselves and those we’ve hurt in this life, but that will grant us forgiveness and eternal life in Christ. It should also make us humble and able to forgive those who sin against us . . . passing forward the gift of mercy and forgiveness to others.

For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God
is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

There is a Redeemer
—Keith Green

There is a redeemer
Jesus, God’s own Son
Precious Lamb of God, Messiah
Holy One

Jesus my redeemer
Name above all names
Precious Lamb of God, Messiah
Oh, for sinners slain

Thank you, oh my father
For giving us Your Son
And leaving Your Spirit
‘Til the work on Earth is done

When I stand in Glory
I will see His face
And there I’ll serve my King forever
In that Holy Place

Thank you, oh my father
For giving us Your Son
And leaving Your Spirit
‘Til the work on Earth is done

Christmas Coupon

Ready to savor a sweet, Hallmark-style Christmas romance?

If so, don your Hallmark tees and snuggle up on the couch for an evening of family-friendly entertainment that will warm your heart as well as your toes and leave you smiling.

Actually, although Christmas Coupon reminds me of a Hallmark movie, it’s even better, because it’s faith-based and Michigan homegrown! The movie was shot on location in the greater Detroit area, and several of the sites are special to me, such as Ward Presbyterian Church (where some of my friends attend) and Three Cedars Farm, where I’ve been many times with my daughter and her family for cider and donuts . . . and to enjoy their petting farm.

Also, I’ve become a fan of Daniel Knudson, who’s the director (and plays the role of the pastor in Christmas Coupon). Only thirty-two, this super talented and creative young man has directed or produced ten feature-length films, two of which landed in the top 50 movies on Amazon Prime! (As a sidebar, while discussing Christmas Coupon with Daniel in preparation for this blog, I discovered that he’s also shot some footage at NorthRidge Church, where my son-in-law directs the videography department! Small world! 🙂 )

Speaking of being a small world after all, Crystal Creek Media, the company behind this movie, is based in Whitmore Lake, where my kids started out their many years of singing as small children ministering at the Whitmore Lake Convalescent Center! What I didn’t know until researching for this post is that Crystal Creek Media “exists to create films with redemptive messages and assist others to do the same” . . . including a film camp, an on-line film course, and various workshops. So, if you or anyone you know is interested in the Christian film industry, be sure to check them out! http://www.crystalcreekmedia.com/

But, you probably want to know a little bit about the plot, too. Right? Well, it all starts when Alison Grant, a figure-skating champion, decides to teach skating lessons on a local pond and gets her nieces to help her spread the word by passing out coupons. What she doesn’t know is that her high school sweetheart has returned to their hometown for the holidays, and he has a niece who’d like skating lessons!

Like almost all good romances, there are quite a few swirls before getting to the happily-ever-after ending, but (also like most good romances) it’s more about the “how” and “when” than the “who ” or “why,” so no one is surprised—but everybody can be pleased—with the way the challenges are met and resolved, and nobody will stay awake all night frustrated by the ending!

He that handleth a matter wisely shall find good: and whoso trusteth in the Lord, happy is he.” (Proverbs 16:20)

Weaving Rugs from Rags

Most of us who’ve grown up in church have heard the poem, “The Weaver,” which tells about how God is making something beautiful out of our lives, which we won’t really understand or appreciate in all its glory until we reach heaven.

However, if you’re like me, you may not have had many opportunities in life to actually weave something on a loom, so I wanted to share a little bit about what I learned, not only about the pleasure of weaving a rug from rags, but also about how God weaves our lives.

Bags of scrap material cut into strips

At Ability Weavers, where Cindi, Susan, and I wove our rugs, we were invited to choose as many different types of material as we wanted from a wonderful assortment of fabrics and colors.

After we’d selected our fabrics, Beryl taught us how to wrap the pieces on shuttles. We started by loading 6 shuttles, but it really took much more material than I would have guessed, so I had to go back a couple of times for more cloth!

Each loom had a name. Mine was called “Grandma,” I think because it was one of the original looms. Although the looms were pretty similar, the materials we chose were strikingly different.

I took pleasure in noting that both Susan and Cindi chose materials that complemented the clothing they were wearing (although that had nothing to do with where they were planning to place their rugs)!

Beyond the variations in fabric types and colors, we each got to decide whether or not we wanted a distinct pattern or a more random design. It took us several hours to carefully pass the shuttle through the loom hundreds of times, each time tightening the fabric by pulling (HARD) on the shuttle so that the material wouldn’t unravel.

Something else that surprised me was that we didn’t have to make sure the fabric was always perfectly straight and even. We were told that the twists and turns in the cloth strips just added interest and variation in the pattern and would look just fine when we were all finished. That made the threading process much easier!

I chose three different types of material: upholstery fabric, strips of cloth, and a furry, fuzzy “something” (yarn-like) that I learned later had to be bought special (as opposed to most of the strips, which were cut from scrap materials donated by various businesses).

While weaving, it’s important to keep from putting too much tension on the threads at the end of each line, so that the carpet doesn’t become constricted or misshapen.

As I worked, it was impossible not to consider how the Lord weaves us! You may resent being considered a “rag,” but I do not! Isaiah 64:6 explains it this way: “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” We may think we’re pure and holy and good, but God knows we are not, at least not completely. Not yet, as long as we struggle on this earth. As we are taught in Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” If you have any doubts about our capacity as humans to be evil, watch the new 2019 documentary, The Devil Next Door (rated 7.7 on IMDb but not for children due to footage of concentration camps during World War 2). This 5-part series delves into the search by our OSI (Office of Special Investigations) to find “Ivan the Terrible,” the sadistically cruel operator of the gas chamber at Treblinka, Poland, who was responsible for the murder of 850,000 people. Alan and I watched it last weekend, and I think it’s one of the most disturbing documentaries I’ve ever seen. I don’t think any of us appreciate our capacity for evil. I’m sure I do not, but I believe what the Bible says.

At any rate (not to be too dark!), in many ways, God lets us weave our own lives, but if we ask Him to be our master and guide, our lives become a wonderful partnership between God’s Holy Spirit and us! God often gives us a huge amount of freedom in choosing the materials and colors and types of fabric that will go into our lives (although He usually prescribes the dark strands of challenging circumstances). We each have a name (“Grandma” fits me just fine!), and although the process of weaving rags into rugs is very similar, the designs and end results are all completely unique and “original,” not only the texture and color, but the size, the shape, and the patterns. All the while we work, just like Beryl was assisting us and helping us when we got stuck, the Holy Spirit instructs and guides us in the process of weaving our lives. Also, there always seems to be an ample supple of material (grace?), so we can keep going back to the store room for more whenever we run out!

Like weavings, our lives requires hundreds of repetitions, a certain amount of banging and pressure to strengthen us so we don’t unravel with use, but not too much tension, or we’ll end up constricted and misshapen. Strangely enough, the twists and turns in the fabric of our lives only add to the beauty and depth of the final product, and if we understand that as we work through life, it helps protect us from too much anxiety over the need to be “perfect” each step of the way!

Anyway, it was such a good experience that I’d love to do it again sometime and am already dreaming of other places where I could “use” another rag rug. Oh, it also occurred to me that each rug was made for a special, unique purpose. Cindi made hers to go beside a bed; Susan is going to place hers at the foot of their stairway, and mine is going to be a table runner for our dining room. God has a special purpose in mind for each of us. Isn’t that a happy thought?

The Weaver

“My life is but a weaving
Between my God and me.
I cannot choose the colors
He weaveth steadily.
Oft’ times He weaveth sorrow;
And I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper
And I the underside.
Not ’til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Will God unroll the canvas
And reveal the reason why.
The dark threads are as needful
In the weaver’s skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned
He knows, He loves, He cares;
Nothing this truth can dim.
He gives the very best to those
Who leave the choice to Him.”
(Authorship disputed but public domain)

I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them. How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: when I awake, I am still with thee” (Psalm 139:14-18).

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).

Enjoying A Miracle Season

Are you all excited about the fall sports season? I love all the inspiring movies based on true stories have been coming out in the past few years. One I missed from 2018 until recently is The Miracle Season, which recounts the triumph of joy over sorrow just a few years ago during 2011 when a group of high school girls from West High in Iowa City tried to rally after losing their star player through a tragic accident.

Danika Yarosh as Caroline “Line” Found

Caroline “Line” Found was the sort of person who loved everybody and was loved by everybody.

William Hurt as Dr. Ernie Found

Her father, a surgeon, was also very involved in trying to foster team spirit and good will between the team members and throughout the community.

The Real “Found” Family

However, he had his own set of heartaches,
not the least of which was the fact that his deeply loved wife was dying.

Helen Hunt as Coach Kathy Bresnahan

Their coach (who won National Coach of the Year in 2011)
was dealing with a lot of pain and loss in her personal life as well.

Erin Moriarty as Kelley Fliehler

Of course, the kids on the team—and especially Caroline’s best friend from childhood, who was chosen to replace “Line” as the team’s center—were all totally traumatized by the loss and emotionally immobilized.

Although West High’s volleyball team had been the state champions in 2010, they lost every game in the fall of 2011 until they would have to win all fifteen of the last games in order to qualify for the championship playoffs.

Could they do it? What happened? Wanna know?

If you’ve got a free evening for a heart-rending, heart-warming story of overcoming sorrow to “Live Like Line!” (giving life all the best you’ve got), take time for The Miracle Season.

You never know, it just might spark a miracle season this fall in your own life too!

After all, God is the God of the impossible, and He delights in helping us when we cry out to Him for help!

Hear my cry, O God; attend unto my prayer. From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:1-2).

Ah Lord God! behold, thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for thee” (Jeremiah 32:17).