If it’s too good to be true . . .
A family friend contacted me the other day to take a look at an online video advertising a new product. This product was the results of a “scientific breakthrough” in genetics and promised to do something incredible. I won’t disclose the actual claim because I don’t want to, in any way, endorse the product. Suffice it to say the claim was something on the lines of “total reversal of the aging process”. Turn back the clock. Be young again. What was interesting was that the advertisement never gave any indication what the actual product was. Was it a lotion? Was it a pill? Was it an injection? Was it a soaking bath? Was it a projector of alien anti-aging cosmic rays?
I spoke to my friend and my answer was very simple. If it seems too good to be true, then it IS too good to be true. Robert Heinlein, the famous science fiction writer once wrote “there is no such thing as a free lunch”. Basically, there is always a catch. There is always an agenda. There is always a downside to every offer that seems too good to be true.
But, sometimes, it is not an offer. Sometimes, it is a possibility. I’ve had many of these in my life. A seeming “coincidence” that promised something that seemed unobtainable; something I was unworthy of. Sometimes, it seems to be a gift. From God. From a friend. From a stranger, even.
Years ago, I was wearing the new soft contact lenses. These new lenses (this was in the 1990’s) could not be worn at night. And, they were far too expensive to be disposable. Each set of lenses was meant to last a couple of years. My wife and I left our children in the capable hands of their grandparents and we went snow skiing. The first night after our first day of skiing was, as usual, very painful. Muscles I had not been using were stressed by having to walk in those horrendous ski boots. Not to mention muscles strained by my desire to ski down the mountain as fast as possible, consequences be damned!
That evening, we found a hot tub and eased into the soaking, heated, wondrous embrace of those bubbles. There were at least six of us staying in the condo. Friends from ski trips in the past. Suddenly, a bubble burst near my face and I felt my contact lens slide off my cornea. I sat up quickly, leaned over the side of the hot tub so that my eye was above the snow covered deck. That way, if the lens popped out, it would NOT land in the caldron of hot tub bubbles. Alas, I did not move quickly enough and the lens was gone! Now what was I to do? I only had one pair of lenses. And, there was no way I could ski to my liking in my glasses.
A friend offered one of her contact lenses. Of course, it was too good to be true that it would work on me and it didn’t. By the time I made it down the slopes the next day, my right eye was killing me. The lens offered by my friend was never meant for my eye. That night, we went back out to the hot tub to soak our even more painful muscles. My glasses clouded up but I had to wear them to see. My friend was upset I could not wear her extra set of lenses and another of our friends who had not been in the hot tub with us the night before asked me how I lost my lens. I recreated my movement and hung my head over the edge of the hot tub and there, nestled in a tiny pool of melted water in a crater of snow floated my contact lens! I gasped in amazement. My lens was right in front of me, still there from the night before! How could such a thing happen? It was too good to be true!
My conclusion is that every now and then, what is too good to be true is still true. Sometimes, good things happen in spite of the negativity that swirls around us. In fact, as I look back on my life, I can find many examples of good things that seemed to happen out of the blue. When these things happened, invariably it was an unexpected answer to a prayer. Or, it was an open door that eventually led me in a direction that proved beneficial in the long run — a door that I never would have walked through on my own.
What I am saying is that sometimes Providence is too good true because in our human expectations, we cannot see the future from an eternal perspective. We only see the immediate. Meet my needs now! Give me what I want today!
I say all of this because 2013 has been an unending string of disappointments in many anticipated things for my life. I can’t go into the details. But, I am bitterly depressed at times because of my failed expectations. It almost seems as if one unending kick in the gut follows another. Just when you catch your breath and dry your tears, another assault comes out of the blue. Problem is, those expectations were MINE. I embraced the improbable even while realizing it could probably never happen! And, when the disappointment set in, all I could do was have a pity party.
In one of my favorite movies, White Christmas, Bing Crosby’s character sings this chorus of a song to his true love:
If you’re worried and you can’t sleep,
just count your blessings instead of sheep
and you’ll fall asleep counting your blessings.
This always gives me pause. We tend to focus on the negatives; the bad things that happen; or the good things that DIDN’T happen. They overshadow the good that did happen. But, if we pause; if we dare to look back at the peaks instead of the valleys, then it is obvious that God does indeed give us those moments of goodness and joy. God does grant our desires as long as those desires are good for us in the long run. The challenge is to realize that what God has planned for us in the long run is far more rewarding than what we seek to obtain in the immediate near future. God is good and His ways are not our ways. He promises us a hope and a future. He promises to make our lives more abundant and joyful. And, yes, He has gone on to prepare for us a place that seems too good to be true.
You know what, if God seems too good to be true, it is only because He is good and He is true!
In 1964, a cartoon premiered on Friday NIGHT called Jonny Quest. I was only 9 years old but I was instantly hooked. I can still recall sitting on our green Naugahyde* couch with a glass of chocolate milk and a miracle whip and mustard sandwich, eyes wide open watching a boy not too much older than me fighting lizard men in the middle of the haunted Sargasso Sea. Those images of rotting hulks of lost and abandoned ships covered with mold and sargassum seaweed still haunt my memories. Here is what Wikipedia says about this area:
The Sargasso Sea is a region in the gyre in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean. It is bounded on the west by the Gulf Stream; on the north, by the North Atlantic Current; on the east, by the Canary Current; and on the south, by the North Atlantic Equatorial Current. This system of ocean currents forms the North Atlantic Gyre. All the currents deposit the marine plants and refuse they carry into this sea.
A gyre of refuse and rotting hulks; the ultimate graveyard of ships unwarily trapped in the doldrums; ships and sailors who drifted into the Sargasso Sea and were trapped forever! Here is a perfect description of a maelstrom of misery; a whirlpool of weariness; a prison for those who lose their wind; let their sails luff helplessly, rudderless — lost forever!
Well, I have been trapped in the Sargasso Sea for months now. And, there is no laser wielding boy scientist and his father on the horizon to save me. “What do you do when you have writer’s block?” I have been asked. Always, I have been able to answer this question by claiming that writer’s block has NEVER been my problem. But, what about life block? What happens when everything grinds to a halt and you can’t seem to get anywhere? What happens when crisis after crisis throws roadblocks and speed bumps before you? Life happens. Writer’s block is a symptom far down the line from a life that has been drawn slowly, inexorably into the Sargasso Sea!
It is no coincidence that in the midst of this time in my life, I am trying to finish a new manuscript on depression. I can officially announce that Mark Sutton and I have signed a new contract for an update to our depression book, “Conquering Depression”. Our hope is to launch a new website by July 1 showcasing our current book and helping those who are deep in the doldrums of depression. I guess I need to read my own book!
But, where I am right now is far more complex than depression. I once thought idealistically that there was a point in my adult life when my children would be grown up and on their own and my wife and I would have time for all of that traveling together; golden years of maturity and joy as a reward for a lifetime lived well and fully. I thought of this “golden” time as the years before retirement when we would still have the health and the energy to do whatever we wanted and the freedom to pursue decades of postponed dreams.
Instead, life has grown increasingly more demanding and complex. Aging parents demand more attention than our young children every did! Our grown children face challenges of their own my wife and I never had to deal with at that age. Life continues to happen, unrolling before us as a road with potholes and unexpected detours and roadblocks. How naive I was to think that life would ever be truly uncomplicated and simple. Life is not.
Here is why. Life is change. Life is growth. Life is pain. Life is joy. Life is NOT static. Life is dynamic. The only time when there will be no change; no growth; no pain is when we are dead. This is a startling revelation for me. To live is to face pain AND joy. The two cannot be separated. For, it is in the triumph over these challenges that we find the sweetest joy; the greatest contentment.
As my family journeys forward into the unknowable future, we have to cling to the concept that the Sargasso Sea can trap us, but there is a Navigator, a Pilot, a Captain who can lead us out of the doldrums. His breath is our wind; filling our sails with life and movement and joy.
I cannot even begin to imagine what life would be like trapped in the Sargasso Sea on a rotting hulk of a broken life totally alone without God. In the deepest, darkest moments of despair, God is still there. I may not be able to see Him but the defect is mine, not His. My glasses are clouded by the smears of angrily swiped tears. My eyes are closed against the pain I see in my life. But, if I open them; if I dare to look UP and away from the maelstrom of misery around me, I will see my Redemption is drawing nigh. My sails, though tattered and torn, can still fill with the breath of life and my ship can move out of the dead water into the living Water of life.
As my wife tells me, “Breathe!”. Yes, breathe; inspire; pause and let the breath of God renew you. Today, right now, this moment stilled and frozen in time — reach up with open hands, open arms, open heart to God. His warmth, His breath, His life will renew you as it renews me with each drawn breath.
Today, I choose to sail my broken, scarred ship out of the Sargasso Sea; out of the rotting hulks of depression and despair and defeat. I set my sight on a far shore with a fair sunrise and a promise of unconditional love! Join me and leave the Sargasso Sea behind!
*A marketing campaign of the 1960s and 1970s asserted that Naugahyde was obtained from the skin of an animal called a “Nauga”. The campaign emphasized that, unlike other animals, which must typically be slaughtered to obtain their hides, Naugas can shed their skin without harm to themselves. Naugahyde also was known as plastic leather or “pleather”.
For fun, check out this ‘redo’ of the intro to Jonny Quest in stop motion animation:
I am giving my last radio interview today on “Violent Video Games and their relationship to Teenage Violence”. And, as has happened to me before, several seemingly totally unrelated events have come together to put all of the past few weeks into perspective.
Yesterday, I reviewed “The Little Seer” for an new author, Laura Cowan. I wondered why God had placed this “divine” appointment in my path when I was already so busy with building a platform for my books and attending the PLATFORM conference. One of my takeaways from the book was the realization of how evil can destroy a life. How the enemy uses his minions to target a person, in this case the character of Tara and not only destroy other people through that person, but destroy the person in the process. I write about demons and spiritual warfare. And, in the years since I have started to do this, I have had personal attacks directed against me by forces of evil. Some of them I have recounted in past blog posts, such as the Devil house in Austin.
Now, let me take you in a lateral move to violent video games. When I started researching the effect of our current culture on young adults way back in May, 2012 as preparation for my update to our Conquering Depression book, I had no idea I would be studying violent video games. My son, Sean, is an avid game player. I have posted his comments on this phenomenon in the past few weeks and I urge the reader to review those posts. Sean began playing video games at an early age on my Commodore 128 computer. Last week, while attending the PLATFORM conference in Nashville, Sean and I had a great time together. On our last day together before I took him to the airport to fly back to his lovely wife in Austin, we stopped off at one of favorite haunts, Best Buy. There is nothing quite like geeking out with your son at Best Buy! As we walked through the door we entered the first “zone” and it was video games. Sean paused, looked around and made an amazing statement. “This used to be my area.”
Used to be? I looked at him in amazement. He went on to say he had practically given up playing video games, specifically violent first person shooter games in the weeks since he and I started talking about this phenomenon. Wow! I was impressed. Let me say this again. The boy has been playing video games his entire life — heavily immersed in video games — hours on end — online with his friends! And now, he has practically given them up! This was a stunning revelation to me. Why? He was tired of the only option for advancing a story — to kill or be killed. There is more to a story than this. There is more to life than this!
Yesterday at dinner, I sat across from my daughter, Casey. She is 25 and is still living at home battling epilepsy and migraines. She has suffered from seizures since age 8 and the story of her life is one of heroism and defiance to this horrific disease. She is one of the strongest people I know on the face of this planet. Recently, we have discovered that her seizures are migraine auras. We are changing out her medication completely. This has left her on an emotional roller coaster as she weans herself off of one drug and onto another. As a consequence, Casey has led a very sheltered life. And now, most of her friends are online — girls in distant parts of the country. Yesterday, I saw in her a deep oppression, a deep depression, a weight of worry and anxiety unlike anything she has faced. Instead of her online friends encouraging her and helping to build her up, these girls are sucking the very life out of her. Surrounded by needy, emotionally labile friends, Casey is desperately trying to please her friends; to help her friends; to encourage her friends. Only the energy is flowing in one direction — over the wifi into the world of ether and faceless “friends” leaving her listless and emotional empty.
This is the bane of their generation. They cannot exist without the internet and yet, all human relations become virtual. There is a danger of becoming isolated and disconnected from real people and, reality. This is the danger of addictive video games, as I have said in my interviews. This is the danger to this generation; a loss of interpersonal relational skills; a deepening, oppressive, paralyzing isolation into a totally self centered world where the greatest danger is becoming your own god.
Last night all of this came together in a sudden and shocking realization. Was Casey like Tara in “The Little Seer”? More specifically, was she like Aria, the main character? Isolated and alone at the hands of jealous, evil oppressed “friends” and not realizing her own special beauty as a “daughter of God”? I gasped as the realization settled in. Thank you Laura for writing your book! Thank you God for giving me insight and discernment.
For you see, my son has been under oppression for years with the evil that naturally resides in the the story of these video games. It had effected him and held him back from a healthy relationship with God. And, now, this is happening to my daughter! I immediately called my wife this morning and we are going to pray for Casey; pray with Casey; bind up the evil forces around her; and help her see that she is a beautiful, radiant daughter of God; meant for happiness and joy; meant for a life filled with light and love; meant to be so much more than the punching bag for a bunch of selfish, anonymous souls suffering in solitude on the internet.
So, here it is in a nutshell. We live in a world full of evil. It is growing in influence and power every day. It’s greatest ally is our isolation and loneliness. For in our solitude, we risk the danger of becoming our own god. But, there is light in the world. Satan is already defeated and God is waiting right where we left Him. He can deliver us out of this solitude by showing us that we are never alone; we are created in His image — an image of love and laughter and creativity and community and joy. Pray for my children. A selfish request on my part. Pray for your own children as they struggle in this world that is increasingly hostile to God. Be a part of their lives. If you are a young adult, seek the company of others — find real community and stop getting pulled into the false reality of video games that are just that — games. Know when to turn off the console and walk outside into the real world and look around. When you do, you will SEE GOD!!!!!