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

Traveling to Paradise Despite the Blizzard

In the belly of the whale... Jonas“In the belly of Jonas!” Cars buried under snow on Jan. 24, 2016 NYC blizzardLast week, from January 22-24, 2016, a category 4 “crippling” Blizzard Jonas was predicted to strike northeastern U.S. with a force that could impact 33 million people and paralyze traffic from Boston to Washington D.C. NYC Snow storm 01.24.16 This time, the weather prognosticators were spot on
(except the storm passed south of Boston, where my son Joel lives). Jonas sure was a whale of a stormJonas was a blizzard of epic proportions,
and as some of our friends demonstrated, “Jonas was a whale of a storm!” Flooding on east coast during Jan. 2016 stormAt least 55 people were killed due to storm-related incidents and flooding,
and economic losses have been estimated at up to $3 billion. Roof vents covered by stormThe storm broke many historic records and has been unofficially considered a “top 10” snowstorm, earning such nicknames as “Snowzilla” Trying to dig out after Storm Jonas & “Snowmageddon” for its mountainous snowfalls (high of 42″ in West Virginia) and horrendous winds (85mph on Assateague Island, MD). Biggest Snowstorm in NYC historyOn January 23 the storm was truly a show stopper in Manhattan
where my brother lives: Cars were buried, traffic banned,
and even all the Broadway shows were cancelled.Newsanchor Tom Costello reporting from LaGuardia. 01.23.16 There were record-breaking snows at both JFK and LaGuardia Airports in NYC, Flights cancelled in NYC due to Blizzard Jonasand more than 13,000 flights were cancelled. Washington D.C. SnowIn Washington D.C., where my little sister lives, Washington D.C. during Jan 2016 stormsnow at the BWI airport broke their historic record, which dated back to 1892! Streets of Philly from USA TodayJonas dumped 22.4″ on Philadelphia (my daughter-in-law Grace’s hometown), which equaled Philly’s average snowfall for an entire year! 25.5 inches of snow in MD 14 states reported more than a foot of snow, and 6 states had more than two feet. Aerial View of Grand Rapids MI in WinterJanuary 23 was also the day Alan and I flew from Grand Rapids to Hawaii.Jet dealing with snowy runwayHaving heard the predictions, we were concerned, particularly when we learned that a plane slid off the runway at O’Hare the night before we were to fly there.US Airways Jet leaving O'Hare Airport However, our flights were bought and paid for, Conference Center at Hilton's Waikola Village Resortas was Alan’s tuition for Mayo Clinic’s Annual Internal Medicine Update,Forecast for Hawaii Jan. 26.16 and the forecast was pretty fabulous if we could just get there, Hawaiin Palmsso we thought we’d take our chances and try to make it safely to Hawaii. Chicago Skyline from the airDespite our anxieties about the weather in Chicago, O'Hare Airportwe made it in and out of O’Hare Airport without a hitch, Phoenix, AZ Aerial Viewand by the time we got to Phoenix…our spirits were risin’…   🙂Pacific Islandby the time we flew over the Pacific, the sky was clearing…Arriving on Big Island. Hawaii from the airand by the time we reached Hawaii, we knew it’d been okay to leave home to go.  Saltwater Lagoon at Hilton's Waikola Village ResortI believe that leaving this earth to go to heaven will be very similar. Hawaiian Sunset on Big Island near HawiThere will be many things to make us feel afraid that we might not make it
safely through the storms of life to reach that “happy, golden shore.” Hawaiian Sunset from the airBut, if you have accepted Christ as your Lord and Savior,
then your tickets are already paid for, Sunrise in Hawaii Jan. 24. 2016and a safe arrival to your destination is assured. Hilton's Waikola Village ResortYou have a room reserved for you and people expecting your arrival!  Picture through mirror at Hilton's Waikola Village ResortIt will be worth it all. I sure hope you’ll come with us! Cloudy Flight to LAX“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).Hawaiian sunset from Waikaloa

(Special thanks to my brother John, sister Liz, friends [especially Laura and her kids in their “whale”], NBC News and USA Today [for picture of Philly]. The rest are photographs I took last week on our trip to Hawaii.)