I stood at the corner of the bedroom hallway and my heart raced with unreasonable fear. If I turned the corner and started across the living room, someone might be waiting at the front door and see me. I would have to look them in the eye. I wasn’t prepared to face anyone. The night before, my world had almost come to an end and I had fallen into the deepest, darkest depression of my life. My dreams were over. My hopes were dashed. I had run my ship aground on the reef of pride and it was sinking fast.
In 1994, I formed a company called The Foundation of Inspirational Arts. My goal was to become sort of a Christian Walt Disney. I wanted to create inspirational art through music, drama, theater, movies, and publishing. I incorporated my new company and formed the board of directors. Five of my good friends set sail with me. In less than a year, the entire thing crumbled. The reasons are too numerous to list but the dream of my life was dead and now I was facing another depressive episode even deeper than ever before. It was the first of October of the next year. By the end of November, I was involved in counseling and slowly beginning to overcome the anxiety and fear in my life.
It was a week before December when I returned to my church and faced all of my friends, especially those on the board of directors. The drama ministry I was in charge of was performing an encore performance of one of my plays, “The Attic Tree”. I came to the dinner theater petrified and anxious and hyperventilated through most of the performance. But, by the end I was calm enough to greet my friends and shake their hands. I went home and collapsed in tears and anxiety. Would I ever overcome this? Would I ever see my dreams come true? And, the next night my wife and I sat down to watch television. There was this movie I had seen in bits and pieces over the years. It was schmaltzy and predictable and I had never taken it seriously. But, on that night near Christmas 1995 I watched “It’s a Wonderful Life” from beginning to end. I blubbered like a baby. My wife gripped my hand most of the time because the story playing out before us resonated so well with what I had been through; with who I was; with what God was trying to tell me.
This past Thursday, I sat in the theater at the Robinson Film Center in Shreveport, Louisiana with my wife, Sherry, my son Sean, and my daughter Casey. We were with two good friends Magdy and Denise, but I was surrounded by the family I had in 1995. Sean is married now and Casey is in college. But, here we were about to watch a big screen showing of “It’s a Wonderful Life”. Like in 1995, I cried most of the way through the movie. I laughed in wonderful places. And, my children loved the movie.
There is no doubt that this movie is my favorite movie of all time. It carries so many powerful and important messages. And, each year, I watch it reverently to see where in George Bailey’s life I am at the moment. Now, I believe I am in that golden age after the movie when George and Mary know what is important and their children have grown up and life is still chaotic and tough, but they have beaten Mr. Potter. And so, I want to share with you these messages I get from this wonderful movie.
1 — “Shall I pray for Daddy?” Throughout this movie there is a pervasive sense that we are here because God put us here on this Earth. And, He is in charge and has a purpose for our lives. Throughout this movie, when trouble arises the first thought, without reservation, is to turn to God. There was one fleeting image I had never noticed when the narrator is talking about how on VJ Day, victory over Japan, the nation cried and prayed. The image shows men and women walking into a church and on the placard out front it says, “National Prayer at 11:30 AM decreed by President Truman”. Do you think we would see such a thing today? Heavens no! And yet, here in this simple story, prayer is taken for granted. It is as much a part of the thinking of the day as was breathing. It was this attitude of prayer and reverence for an almighty God that guided this nation through World War II. We have forgotten that in our heyday of hi tech and new atheism and postmodern relativism. God is still in charge. God is still there waiting patiently for us to bow our head say, “Help me God. Won’t you please help me?”
2 — “All you can take with you is that which you’ve given away.” My wife is incredible. Whenever she sees someone in trouble, she finds the resources to give to that person. I am a successful physician. And yet, we always seem to struggle with our finances. Not because we are big spenders. I’ve been to Europe once in my life compared to my partners two of whom has been to every continent including Antarctica. Early on, my mother instilled in me the concept that people are the most important thing in the universe. Programs, money, fame, glory, possessions all pale in comparison to one life touched and changed in a positive way. And so, not to brag because all I own could be gone tomorrow, but this sentiment is so true for my wife and me. We can’t take anything with us. We want to share and help those around us as long as God gives us the resources.
3 — “A toast to my big brother George: The richest man in town.” and “Remember, George: no man is a failure who has friends.” George Bailey is so surprised to learn that all of his sacrifices have not been in vain. He gave himself away so many times, his frustration with his life was huge. But, in giving himself away, he made so many others’ lives better. God used George Bailey to change the world around him even when George was not aware of it. In fact, if George had been aware of the impact on other’s lives, he would not have been the same man. God works that way. In our moments of shock and despair, God emerges strong and vibrant and we suddenly see His great and glorious plan; using our pain and sufferings for His greater good. And, it is only then we realize that only God can take the credit for such wondrous developments. Only God can take the credit for working in George Bailey’s life. And, the moment George realizes what a wonderful life God has allowed him to have, he finds true joy. Not happiness. Happiness is temporary and fleeting. Joy is constant and a deep well from which we can take respite from the pain and sufferings in life. Joy reminds us that God is at work in a greater and more powerful way that we cannot see at the moment. It take faith to accept that this great and powerful God who has delivered in the past will do so again. And, in those moments of great despair when we pray “God, please help me” we can know that somehow our deliverance will be for a good we cannot even begin to understand.
Joy to the World!
The Lord is come!
Let Earth receive her King!
Let every heart
Prepare Him room.
Let heaven and nature sing!
Let heaven and nature sing!
Let heaven and nature sing!
I wonder if the disciples huddled in their dark, frightened homes wondered if Jesus’ life had been a waste. I wonder if their hopes that Christ would usher in a new kingdom on Earth, a new and more wonderful life were dashed by the death of their teacher on a cruel cross. I wonder if they stood alone as George Bailey did on the edge of that bridge and decided it was better to die than to go on living. One thing we now know beyond a shadow of a doubt. Their hope was not dashed. Their hope was renewed by the presence of the resurrected Christ! They saw their lives reshaped and recast in eternal perspective in the resurrection. They realized, after the fact even as George Bailey did that it had been a wonderful life lived by Christ. But, the most wonderful life was yet to come when one day they, as well as those of us today, will walk the streets of eternity with the one who gave His wonderful life for us.
I hope you have a wonderful, peaceful, fulfilling Christmas. I hope you find time to pause and reflect on the lives you can touch in the name of the child born in a manger.
Merry Christmas you old Building and Loan!!!