Re-reading The Lord of the Rings while going through the darkest year of my life has led me to think about the kingly gifts that have sustained me. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is in many ways a story of gifts. Some gifts are simple and others astounding in their power and beauty. These gifts sustain Frodo in his quest and help him through the darkest times and places. When Frodo visits Bilbo in Rivendell, Bilbo gives him two important gifts: an elven sword (named Sting) and a coat of mail made of mithril. The sword glows whenever orcs are near, and the coat of mail is light, beautiful, and strong.
Other members of the fellowship don’t know Frodo is wearing this light coat of mail under his humble hobbit clothes—the gifts aren’t obvious. When explaining the value of the mithril mail, Gandalf says, “I never told him, but its worth was greater than the value of the Shire and everything in it.” Gimli declares the coat of mail a “kingly gift.” Frodo is “staggered to think that he had been walking around with the price of the Shire under his jacket.” And indeed, the coat of mail, nearly forgotten by Frodo, saves his life. Here I remember some kingly gifts that have saved me.
My father gave me a love for the church—God’s people. My father, a Church of the Nazarene pastor, had enough hard times with congregations and mean folks to sour forever his attitude toward the church, but he just kept loving and serving. His heart broke for God’s wayward people, and sometimes those people broke his heart. It was often what he didn’t say that revealed his deep love for God’s people. He taught me not to pull away—to be unoffendable. The love, prayers, and practical help of the Church have strengthened my heart and given me courage. I have been less alone.
My mother gave me a passion for Jesus. She would often pray, “God, help us to have radical obedience to your Son, Jesus.” Mom believed in complete surrender to God’s will, radical obedience to God’s Word and the voice of the Holy Spirit. If I had been, lukewarm, double-minded, or a half-hearted Christian, my faith would not have survived this last year. Anger, despair, and grief would have crushed me.
John Wesley Adams, who I met at Mid-America Nazarene College in 1980, gave me an absolute faith in the authority of God’s Word. Sometimes Teckla and I would come by his office and ask him questions about the book of Acts. Wes, a professor of New Testament, would carefully explain the most hermeneutically sound interpretation of the passage—no matter how much trouble it would cause. We asked, “Do you think the account of the church in the Acts is just history or is it normative? Should the church and evangelism depend on the power of the Holy Spirit today like it did then?” His declaration that Acts is normative has changed my life and defined my quest. Wes, by word and example, taught me to have the courage to trust God’s Word.
My brother Larry, a religion and philosophy major, taught me that I did not need to put my mind on a shelf to follow Jesus. Much of this gift was indirect: conversations about metaphysics at the dinner table, books left at the house left for college, and his example. By reading widely and exploring ideas boldly, Larry made me intellectually unafraid to go to graduate school at Washington State University. Yes, I was coming from a Christian college, but because of Larry I had already read Samuel Beckett, Allen Ginsberg, and Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul on Ice. I followed Larry’s example, and took two years of philosophy from a famously demanding professor. Because of Larry, I became intellectually unafraid.
My brother, Stanley, gave me a love of nature. Although ten years older than I, he would take me on nature walks around Milton-Freewater. He was a birdwatcher but knew the species of every tree and flower as well. Stanley was never about checklists or bragging rights; he loved nature for its own sake. Knowing the names of everything was just friendship with God’s creation. He taught me to see, know, and love nature. This delight in the natural world has enriched my life and made me at home wherever I go.
Far more precious than anything I inherited from my parents is the Holy Spirit—my inheritance in Christ as an adopted child. In this earthen, hobbit-like vessel is something more valuable than mithril. It is God himself living in me through the gift of the Holy Spirit. I have often wanted to cry out, “I can’t take anymore!” But God’s Spirit assures me that I am not alone and that it is not by my strength that I stand. When all the arguments of despair wash over me, the Holy Spirit speaks hope.
Like Frodo, I am staggered by the kingly gifts I have been given. And too often I forget them. In the midst of darkness and hardship, we might be surprised to discover the gifts we carry under our ragged hobbit clothes.