Sam: By rights we shouldn't even be here. But we are. It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and 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. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand.
I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.
Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam?
Sam: That there's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo... and it's worth fighting for.
~~from The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

Hi all,
So, admittedly, I didn't spend as much time on this one as I probably shoulda.  I was writing
.  For a while, I felt kinda guilty about that.  I mean here I was spending all this time writing stories about Andrew when John's birthday was approaching.  But the more I've thought about that, maybe that's what John's birthday needs to be for me now.  At least sometimes.  Don't get me wrong.  I still have a good time looking back on the shows and movies that he left behind.  And sometimes it's nice to write short joke-y things about Todd or Virgil or Doc.  I'm sure that some years I'll still want to do that.  This just doesn't happen to be one of those years!  So instead of that... you get this letter.  I bet you're thrilled.  ;-)
John taught us all many, many lessons through his life and work and over the years we've tried to capture many of those via lists of things we loved about John or "Everything I Need to Know" items.  This is a lil different.  Right now I'd like to share how John and those he worked with taught me about stories.
First, I learned that a positive story doesn't always mean an easy, nice story.  TBAA exemplified
that.  Always its message was positive but that didn't mean they shied away from important and even frightening issues.  When I first started JABB, I had a rule that everything that went into a newsletter had to be equivalent to a PG rating or less.  Long live the fluffiness!  But we simply don't live in a PG rated world filled with only PG rated issues.  I'm glad that we got to see Andrew take care to document the horrors of human trafficking.  I'm grateful that we saw the angels take on vile hate groups.  When I really started to think about that, it was very freeing creatively.  I'm glad I clued in and I credit John mostly for that because, well, it was the difficult Andrew scenes that really helped me make this realization.  If I have to live in a world where there are homeless children, I want to do so while believing that somewhere there's an angel cradling them and sleeping on a park bench just so they're not alone.  For every horror in this world, I believe there's a lot of goodness, seen and unseen.  The way Andrew was depicted so often reminds me of that whenever I forget.
That brings me to the second lesson: the value of hope in a story.  So many of John's projects are really sad!  Mother, Mother is heart-wrenching and poor Doc Hock and then there are so many TBAA episodes that require Kleenex usage...  But sad is not the same as depressing.  In the midst of an epidemic, there was a reunion in Mother, Mother.  And while we don't know what happened to Doc Hock, Tour of Duty showed us numerous other characters who life just plain couldn't keep down.  (I am convinced Col. Brewster is still out there somewhere... tough and moral as ever!  Maybe he even found Doc and brought him back to his senses.)  And, of course, TBAA always reminded us that no matter what happens here, we have a loving God and a Home untouched by tragedy or cruelty.  So... even in my darkest plots, I know I always want to maintain that sense of hope.
Third, I learned from John and especially the TBAA set that no one can tell your stories but you so you might as well tell em exactly as you want em!  I'm sure at points TPTB with TBAA might have been tempted to go in other more tantalizing, potentially ratings-raising directions.  I'm glad they didn't.  The occasional issue aside, I'm glad TBAA is what it is and not a supernatural soap or brimstone and hellfire epic.  I'm grateful Andrew never whipped out a sword of flame and went all Sodom and Gomorrah on anyone.  ;-)  I'm glad it wasn't built around dramatic plot twists and whodunits.  Martha Williamson and company wanted to have a show about God's love and they did.  And, as I eventually accepted, I wanted to write stories about a family and I wanted Jesus included.  Not your typical style for TBAA fanfic!  But it's my style.  And I'm sticking to it.  Cause maybe somewhere along the line that one story or another will be exactly what one random person needs and if only that one person reads it... fine by me!  Ratings and web site hits are just numbers.  But staying true to your vision is of immeasurable worth.

Fourth...  Okay, so maybe I wasn't the biggest fans of those Christmas movies.  But maybe that's because they stand as a reminder of what my sometimes jaded mind struggles to accept: there are times when cute and cuddly and sweet and simple are good.  A story doesn't always have to tackle a big issue to be worthwhile.  It's okay to have fun!  I may not particularly feel the need to pen stories about creatures of folklore having romantically minded offspring... but if I wanna write a whole story about, say, Andrew playing with a baby then that's totally fine!  And, yes, I probably will write that story eventually. 

Lesson number five: I've heard many times that villains are more interesting than heroes.  John's roles helped reiterate for me how this is often not true at all.  The good guys can be endlessly interesting!  To be honest, I don't really find Manion interesting (way freaky, though!).  But
Andrew?  How the heck can someone remain so good and so committed and so compassionate after seeing so much tragedy and cruelty?  I could ponder this for hours (and have...)!  And Doc...  Unlike Andrew, he actually made some really bad decisions but he was a good guy and who among us who watched Tour wasn't invested in his journey?  Who didn't find themselves wondering what they'd do in his position?  Who still hasn't quite figured out whether he was right or wrong in "War is a Contact Sport"?  I haven't.  So it truly is possible to bring compelling, thought-provoking good guys to life.  John did it for years.
John also taught me to really think about what message one sends with a story.  He truly valued TBAA's central message of "God loves you" and hoped that message would touch children for generations.  I know I will never have the outreach that TBAA did.  But I don't see any point in setting loose on the world, even if it's not noticed by many, something that sends a negative, disheartening message.  So I truly hope that whomever reads my stories is left with an uplifting, comforting feeling.  If not, I hope they tell me so I don't do that again!

Finally, John taught me about the power of story to comfort and encourage in times of grief and loss.  It took me quite a while after John died to really hit my stride again.  I think I was worried that if I did anything remotely emotional with Andrew, I'd just fall apart because I'd be overwhelmed by the knowledge that I'd never get to see John act that emotion again.  But I was so wrong. 
Not writing just kept me stuck in the past, unable to move on.  I am still immensely comforted by revisiting John's on-screen past.  I love that we have these DVDs that we can treasure and share for years to come.  But, more and more, I feel closer to John as I look forward and write about the future.  Cause, really, we're closer to a future with him, our loved ones, and God than we are to the past.  No matter what you do, you can't go back to 1996.  But you will eventually reach 2096 and unless we all have stunning longevity, we'll likely be Home by then.  And there continues the greatest story ever told, the story that will never end, the story John told us a lil something about when he said: "I want you to know there's nothing... nothing to be afraid of. On one side, there's life. And on the other...there's life, too."  I look forward to seeing what chapters unfold here in this life but, boy, won't it be something to see the chapters that are forever unfolding in that Life and to meet the Author?! 

Until then, I hope we all treasure the lessons we took from John's life and his work.  I hope the stories we write and those we live always promote positivity, hope, our best selves, goodness, some necessary playfulness, truth, and healing.  

Happy birthday, John! 

God bless and love,

Since this open letter is really just one long dedication to John, instead of the usual short dedication I put here, I'd like to offer up a challenge instead: Use your words to reach out to someone.  Write a letter.  Send an email.  Pickup the phone.  Catch up with an old friend.  Give a compliment to a stranger.  Just do something to bring an encouraging word or a few to someone else in honor of a ma
n who left us with lots of encouragement.


JABB 404

(Photo Credits: The first and last photographs used on this page are from Touched by an Angel and owned by CBS Productions, Caroline Productions, and Moon Water Productions.  The second is from Mother, Mother and owned by its producers.  The third is from
Twice Upon a Christmas and owned by Viacom Productions Inc. and the fourth is from Tour of Duty and owned by New World Television and Braun Entertainment Group.  They are not being used to seek profit.)