Not All Who Wander Are Lost...

“It’s like the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness & danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end…because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing…this shadow. Even darkness must pass.” – Sam (JRR Tolkien The Two Towers)


The cool air condensed in corners of the moving vehicle. The interior, warm, seemed hallowed ground. The music swelled, carrying a cadence of mystery. The wonder of the cutting landscape – moon: half sphere mystical – transported the inhabitant from the back roads of Lexington, KY to the hills and dales of The Shire.

I don’t recall the exact moment when I walked into the world of JRR Tolkien via Peter Jackson’s film interpretation, but I do remember the feeling – the tangible impact it made in my life. It is as if I left a piece of my heart in Middle Earth. It is a place where little folk do amazingly big things; where evil is tangible, loss is probable, but the pure side of good always prevails.

I never read the books in my youth, nor did I watch the films in the theater. To this day I am grateful that I took the time and space to find this world on my own and not follow the crowd. As my sister and I have often talked about, this world feels a part of us. It is a sacred space that is sometimes difficult to share with other people. It is a personal journey.

I love that my sisters and my parents, especially my Father, have also embraced the world of Tolkien. Meredith and I share the love of the music. Howard Shore did a beautiful job creating an emotional landscape for your heart to escape via brilliant composition.

Last year I committed to reading the books through. I haven’t gotten far, about a quarter of the way there, but I am relishing the discovery of this world through the eyes of its creator. I am always left a bit breathless when an author can transport you out of the confines of your skin into a realm forged through imagination and ink. I am taking this journey slow, peaking around the corner of the next page before running head long down the path. It is a slow burn - capturing the different hues and colors expressed in the flame.

I know reality. The day to day duties of this life are not a foreign road. I also know what God has called us to. It is adventure to the core. A love story which astounds – rough edges and all. It is the edges not smoothed that often snag onto His undeniable grace.

So, I walk this imagined mythical road through Middle Earth knowing the journey of Heaven transcends it one hundred fold. There is no imagining or make-believe that could ever compare to the reality we as the body of Christ has in our promise of Heaven. This real and tangible place carries with it all our need, desire, and hope.

There are a couple moments I will treasure in my LOTR journey. One, was being able, after years of loving these films (extended versions of course), to see them in the theater with my Mom and Dad. It was a special re-release and we saw the film with the same people each week. It was fabulous: a sweeping breathtaking experience. My favorite reaction came from my Dad. The fire danced just behind his eyes as he explained, as if a young boy, “I could have sat through all three of the movies at once!”

The second enjoyable moment was being able to see the first two Hobbit movies with my sisters. I know many who have issues with these films. I don’t really care. All I know is that going into the theater I was a bit fearful they wouldn’t evoke the same emotion LOTR had. As the lights dimmed and the screen came to life, familiar cords began to play, my heart swelled, and tears were shed. I looked at my sister; she looked at me, the same feelings rushing over and through - abounding grand joy pouring over us in utter relief.

My little heart broke wide with emotion as my entire family and I went to see the last Hobbit film in the theater. A cascade of emotions I could never fully capture poured out fresh and clean.

I hate to admit that much of my life has been lived with a layer of numbness over it. It likely comes from living my life internally, in my head, a shell always up to hide prying eyes.

So, to have unbridled moments of deep resonant emotion fills my cup ever to overflowing. I always want this story to evoke emotion.

The greatest joy I derive from these stories is that Tolkien created the most unlikely of heroes. The great wizards, elves, dwarves are often backdrops to the unlikely humans and simple hobbits. I want to weep at the true friendship Sam provides Frodo and stand in awe at the austere and somewhat maddening beauty and presence of the elves. The concept that the brilliance and intelligence of the elves also makes them a bit mad creates a space where good and evil blur authentically. I giggle at the hilarity and strength of the dwarves, and am warmed by the antics of the hobbits.

I want to be Eowyn: mighty, strong, simple, fearful, courageous, human, heroine.

As Tolkien wrote: not all that wander are lost!

I can feel aimless and stretched paper thin. I can, at times, not see one drop of purpose in my life. Yet, in those moments I remind myself that Frodo, Sam, Gandalf, Aragon, Boromir, Merry, Pippen, Legolas, & Gimli all felt the drudgery of an unending day, the chill of wind through cloaks, and hunger pains. Every step was not fraught with danger or adventure. There were day to day tasks of building a fire or brandishing a sword that were necessary and seemingly mundane...

Eowyn & Aragorn:

“What do you fear, lady?” he asked.

“A cage,” she said. “To stay behind bars, until use & old age accept them, & all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire.”

This wanderlust that is shut up in bones that ache for more; constantly wrestling with the fall. I don’t desire a reckless burn – fast and consuming. I plead to burn slow and bright: a candle in a darkened room causing tempting shadows of fear and anxiety to flee. There is a need to participate with purpose. I do not wish to sit on the sidelines. Yet, I think there is perspective that has to be gained when life and dreams don’t match. The hurt cannot become a bitter root. If we anchor our hurts to His mast, allowing them to catch the wind, they can propel us to the exceedingly great and more He has for us. And, oh sweet goodness He has indeed prepared for us.

“I stand in Minas Anor, the Tower of the Sun; & behold the shadow has departed! I will be a shield maiden no longer, nor vie with the great Riders, nor take joy only in the songs of slaying. I will be a healer, & love all things that grow and are not barren.” – Eowyn; The Return of the King; JRR Tolkien

I think we all struggle with wrestling. We fight life until we are bloody. We fight Him until we are black and blue. There is growth when we lay down our arms and pick up our battered heart, extend it, open handed, to those in need. I want to foster growth, beauty, and abundance not only in myself, but in the lives of those around me.

“And then her heart changed, or at least she understood it; & the winter passed, & the sun shone upon her.” – Eowyn (LOTR, Return of the King)

I am thankful for the light that shines in my darkened spaces. The slate grey sky always parts. There is never perpetual darkness. The silver lining is not a cliché or ridiculous saying. There is hope, fortitude, and beauty.

“There, peeping among the cloud – wrack above a dark tower high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear & cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the shadow was only a small & passing thing: there was light and high beauty forever beyond his reach.” (Sam) Return of the King, JRR Tolkien.

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