As we move into the holiday season I want to remind everyone of a book that would make one of the best holiday presents. “The Homecoming Tree” is set in Shreveport, Louisiana at the beginning of World War II and features a powerful and moving story of a young boy coming of age and a man who has lost touch with his morality. Filled with historical references of northwest Louisiana’s involvement with the war effort, this story will not only educate readers but will entertain readers. Let me just say if you like “It’s A Wonderful Life”, the movie, you will like “The Homecoming Tree”.
So, check out the “Books” tab on how to get your hands on the ebook or the printed book. And, stay in touch as Mark Sutton and I are planning a book signing before the end of the year when he releases his new fiction book, “Pitfall, Book One: Angel Wars”. More on that soon!Read the rest of this entry
I’m finally able to type again after suffering pain and neural tingling in my right hand from a disc herniation. I couldn’t let the year end without a blog post. I’d like to share a short story with you. I’ve often wondered what happened after George Bailey’s friends saved the day in my favorite movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life”. I hope you have seen this movie. If not, please, please watch it before 2013 is history. So, for your enjoyment here is my imagination of what happened to George Bailey and his nemesis, Mr. Potter. And, I know the movie is copy written so this is just for fun. Enjoy!
Happy New Year!
A Bedford Falls New Year!
The jail cell was cold and dank. Someone had forgotten to replace the light bulb and only a few strand rays of limpid light fell through the barred window. Even through the thick, ice covered glass of the window, the man sitting in his wheelchair could hear the revelers outside. He snorted and sniffed in anger as he tried to ignore the voices raised in song and celebration.
He rubbed an arthritic hand over his pale face, massaging his downturned mouth. He blinked his heavy eyelids and peered into the dark shadows of his cell for any sign of relief.
“I want to speak to my assistant, do you hear?” He bellowed, not for the first time. His words fell on deaf ears, swallowed up by the cold indifference to his very existence. “Do you know who I am? I’ll have the sheriff throw every one of you in jail!” He grabbed the wheels of his chair and tried to push himself toward the door to his cell. It was a dark, rust stained metal door with a barred window too far above his head to do him any good. He gasped for breath as he tried to push his chair closer. He was not used to moving his own chair. His assistant pushed him everywhere. He realized this was a sign of weakness. He should never have become dependent on another human being.
He came within an arm’s reach of the cell door and banged his fist against the metal. It was cold and rough with bits of rust. “Let me out of here, I tell you! I own this town! I own the sheriff! I’ll foreclose on everyone of your houses, you vermin!”
A shadow eclipsed the wan light coming from the hallway and a face appeared in the window. “Sir, you need to be quiet or we will have you physically restrained.”
The old man squinted toward the window. “This is outrageous! Let me out of here!”
“I’m sorry, but you have been arrested for theft.”
“I want my lawyer.” The old man wheezed and began to cough.
“It’s Christmas day. We can’t find your lawyer.” The man in the window said. “Can’t tell you how good it makes me feel to see you in this jail cell. I was telling my friend, Ernie, how wonderful it was to actually arrest you and throw you in this cell! Let me ask you something. You own the bank. You own every business in town, but one. Why would you throw all that away by stealing $8000 from one of your own bank customers!”
“It was a mistake, I tell you.” The old man wiped tears from his cheek as his coughing session finally ended. “I found that money in my newspaper.”
“Found $8000 just lying around tucked inside your newspaper? Who in their right mind would let something like that happen?” The man in the windows asked.
“That crazy old accountant, that’s who. He’s lost most of his mind. He’s daffy!” The old man pointed a gnarled finger at the window.
“Oh, so you saw the accountant put the money in your newspaper? If you didn’t want to steal it, why didn’t you tell the accountant he had misplaced his money? Seems to me, you saw a chance to steal something you could never get your hands on, and you took it. And, I’m not talking about the money. I’m talking about the business . . .”
“I know what you’re talking about! I swore out an arrest for the real thief and he should be in here instead of me. Now, go do you job and arrest him and let me go.”
The man in the window pulled away and the old man heard another voice in the hallway.
“Bert, I want to talk to him.” The old man recognized the voice immediately and his face grew hot with anger.
“George, you should go home and be with your family.” Bert said.
“I need to talk to him, Bert. Just a few minutes.”
The old man wheeled himself painfully away from the door and grit his teeth. How should he handle this? He could still get the upper hand. If he planned this carefully . . . The door grated and opened. A tall man stood silhouetted against the light in the hallway and his shadow stretched across the jail cell and covered the old man in darkness.
“I suppose you’ve come here to gloat?” The old man said. “Well, you can just turn around and go back to your scruffy little family. I’ll be out of here in no time and I plan on launching a law suit against you and your firm that will finally crush your building and loan business.”
George stepped into the room and moved to the side to sit on the room’s only piece of furniture, an old Army cot. He held a fedora in his hands and he placed it on his knee. He wore a nice suit with some fraying of the threads along the lapels and a jaunty tie with red and green bows on it. He wiped at his long face and blinked.
“Mr. Potter, I know that I should just sit here and soak all of this in. Imagine. The great Mr. Potter sitting in a jail cell. Who would have thought such a thing was possible?”
Before Potter could open his mouth something exploded against the outside window. Potter jerked and George glanced over his shoulder. Red pulpy flesh dripped down the outside of the window. “Waste of a good tomato.” George said.
A voice echoed from outside the window. “I hope you rot in that cell, Potter!” Other voices joined in, rising in volume, blending into a cacophony of cursing and threats. A whistle interrupted the voices and Bert’s voice was heard ushering the mob away.
“I suppose you put that unruly mob up to this, George. I’ll add that to the law suit.” Potter growled.
George sighed. “Mr. Potter, I don’t have to say a word for the people of this town to rise up against you. You’ve held so many things over their heads for so long that now you’re locked up, they realize you can’t hurt them anymore. No, I don’t have to speak a word. You are your own worst enemy.”
Potter rubbed his hands together. “Well, I guess you’ve finally won, George. So, I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I’ll speak to the bank board and the city attorney about this mixup in the money and have them drop all the charges. I’ll even forget the law suit. You can go on taking care of your unruly mob of friends and I’ll get back to the real business of running the business of this town.”
“And, the $8000?”
“You realize it was you’re own dim witted uncle that lost that money?”
“And, it didn’t take you long to find it, right?” George said. “Mr. Potter why didn’t you just call up my office and tell me what happened? We could have avoided all of this.”
“George, your building and loan has been a pain in my backside for years. And, suddenly, I was handed the very tool I needed to bury you.” Potter smiled. “I did nothing wrong, George. It was all the doings of one of your employees. He lost the money and your business should have gone under. I refuse to back down from that. But now that you have beaten me, George, I’ll give in. I’ll put you on the board of directors of the bank and award you a sizable portion of the stock and bond options. You can finally have enough money to get everything you want. What do you say?”
George smiled. “Mr. Potter, last night I almost threw away God’s greatest gift to me, my own life. He showed me that the most important thing in this world is not money or stocks or bonds or positions of power. It’s people, Mr. Potter. Friends and family whose lives have intersected with mine. God has used this measly little old building and loan clerk to change the world, Mr. Potter. And, you want to hear something amazing?”
Potter raised an eyebrow. “Do I have a choice? Go on with your sentimental hogwash.”
“He used you, Mr. Potter. You were part of this grand plan of His, too. Now, when Bert handed me this bunch of papers a while ago,” George pulled out a folded bunch of documents from his inner coat pocket and tapped them against his leg. “I was understandable elated. You see, Mr. Potter, the board of directors of the bank met this morning and stripped you of everything. You are no longer the president and owner. They seized your stock and bond options. Then, the bank turned over all mortgages and loans to me. Imagine that, Mr. Potter. The world has turned upside down. I’m in charge of this town now. Not you.”
Potter gasped and his face grew pale. “I don’t believe a word you’re saying.”
George stood up and placed the papers in Potter’s lap. “See for yourself, Mr. Potter. You’re finished, kaput, gone with the wind. You’ll spend the rest of your life right here in this cold, dank jail cell. Even your own assistant turned against you and right now, the sheriff is searching your home for more hidden skeletons in the closets.”
Potter grabbed the papers and squeezed them tightly as veins stood out on his forehead. He hurled them aside and they separated in the air, raining down on the floor in a gentle susurration. “You scurvy little rat! This is far from over, Bailey.”
“I’m afraid it is, Mr. Potter. I’m afraid it is. Now, if you are interested in turning your life around, all you have to do is say a little prayer for help and my friend, Clarence will help you gain a new perspective on your life.” George walked toward the door.
“Who’s this Clarence?”
“An angel, Mr. Potter.” George paused and looked around the cell. “There is one thing you were right about. I came her to gloat. But, I realize I’ve been given a second chance at life so I can’t hold anger and bitterness against you anymore. Mr. Potter, I forgive you.”
“Forgive me? How dare you!” Potter sputtered.
“You might want to consider asking for forgiveness for yourself. Because, when I close this door, either you’ll spend the rest of your days with an angel. Or,” George slowly closed the door until only his face could be seen through the tiny door’s windows. “you’ll spend it with your own private demons. Merry Christmas, Mr. Potter.”
Potter opened his mouth to respond as George disappeared. He glanced around at the dark shadows of his chamber. “Me, ask for forgiveness. Never!” He screamed. “Do you hear me, never!” His voiced echoed into silence and through the window he heard the voices of people singing Christmas carols. “Never!” He whispered.
The papers stirred around his feet and something moved in the blackest corner of his cell. He peered into the shadows and two tiny red eyes blinked.
“Seasons Greetings, Mr. Potter!” a raspy voice echoed through the chamber filling Mr. Potter’s heart with an unfamiliar sensation, dread.
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!!!