Advertisements

Blog Archives

Too Good to be True?!?

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!

Advertisements

We’ll Follow the Old Man Because We Love Him!

waverlyEvery Christmas I make sure and watch one of my favorite movies of all time, White Christmas. Yes, I love the song. Yes, I love the romantic angle. Yes, I love the story of loyalty to old friends. But the real reason this movie touches me is because of the relationship between General Waverly and his men. When the film opens, a tired, war weary group of men are trying to celebrate Christmas Eve on the German front. General Waverly is being sent back to the states. The men sing a song to “the old man”.

We’ll follow the old man wherever he wants to go

Long as he wants to go opposite to the foe

We’ll stay with the old man wherever he wants to stay

Long as he stays away from the battle’s fray

Because we love him, we love him

Especially when he keeps us on the ball

And we’ll tell the kiddies we answered duty’s call

With the grandest son of a soldier of them all!

It is hard for us to understand this kind of devotion in today’s jaded, cynical world. A group of men so tightly devoted to each other they would tell their leader they “love” him? Unthinkable!

Why did they love General Waverly so? What characteristics of his leadership inspired this kind of devotion? A key to understanding the answer to this question can be found in the following dialogue. Bob Wallace, played by Bing Crosby and Phil Davis, played by Danny Kaye have arrived at the General’s inn in Vermont and watch as the man once a commander is now cleaning kitchen floors. This is what they said:

Bob Wallace: We ate, and then he ate. We slept, then he slept.

Phil Davis: Yeah, then he woke up and nobody slept for forty-eight hours.

Walt-Disney-Disneyland-CastleOne of my favorite photographs shows Walt Disney walking through Snow White’s castle in a very early Disneyland. Walt was famous for his “management by walking around” philosophy. He would pop up unannounced and ride the rides; watch the shows; listen to the musicians. Yes, he was a stickler for quality but more than anything, he wanted to be a part of his creation. He would wander the hallways of the animation studio after the animators left for the day and dig through their trash to find new ideas. He really believed in his animators. And, his expectations were very tight and rigid, but inside he cared about his employees; he loved them. There were many times he would take an employee who was in trouble and pay his salary while he dried out in what we would call today “rehab”. In fact, when his animators joined the union, Walt was devastated. He considered them a part of his family and the decision to join the union was akin to saying they didn’t appreciate his tender care.

I’ve been writing blogs the past few days about the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. I’m trying to focus on his teachings and put aside, for now, his claims to be the Messiah. His teachings are universal and transcend anyone’s religion. And, in the history of mankind no one has changed the world than this one man and his 12 followers. What did Jesus do that inspired these simple men to go out and literally turn the world upside down?

Many books have been written about Jesus’ “leadership” style but I believe it comes down to a simple act that typified Jesus’ approach to assuring these men would indeed change the world.

It is the night of his betrayal and Jesus and his disciples are gathered in a room to celebrate the feast of unleavened bread prior to the Passover. It is a somber and moving dinner filled with meaning and remembrance of the passing over the children of Israel by the angel of death while they were slaves in Eqypt. Imagine the men talking among themselves; eager to take their place at the right hand of this new king who would soon overthrow the tyranny of the Romans. They are excited; filled with hubris and arrogance; over confident after Jesus’ reception by the people of Jerusalem. Suddenly, the door to the other room opens. Standing in the doorway is Jesus. He has taken off his robe and wrapped a towel around his bare waist. His chest glistens with sweat and his eyes are filled with a haunting passion. He holds a wooden bowl filled with tepid water. As the disciples watch in utter amazement, this man; this king; this ruler of all of mankind kneels before the first of his disciples and begins to wash the man’s nasty, dirty feet.

Shocked and stunned they whisper among themselves as their leader takes their feet, dipping them into the warm water and washes away the dirt. Their king is kneeling before THEM! The world has turned upside down.

This stunning development was just the beginning of a huge paradigm shift for these men. Later, anticipating a board room meeting in which each man would receive his marching orders and his assignment in the new hierarchy Jesus shocks them again with these words:

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.

Stop here for a moment and really hear those words. Jesus is talking about love? Not conquest or battle strategy or corporate intrigue. He has become a servant to his men and now he speaks of love! How has he loved these men? Listen to his next words:

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.

There is an awful lot love mentioned in this section. The word here is a Greek word, agape meaning “the love of God or Christ for humankind. In the New Testament, it refers to the covenant love of God for humans, as well as the human reciprocal love for God; the term necessarily extends to the love of one’s fellow man. Many have thought that this word represents divine, unconditional, self-sacrificing, active, volitional, and thoughtful love.”

In fact, the original Greek word, agapao, has taken on this meaning through its use by Jesus of Nazareth and his followers. There are some interesting words in the above definition such as “the love of one’s fellow man” and “unconditional, self-sacrificing”. I could go on but lets stop right here for now. Let’s look at what Jesus of Nazareth is telling us about his concept of being a “king” or a “leader”. Simply, put Jesus of Nazareth is teaching us:

You cannot be an effective leader until you know how to follow.

You cannot ask someone to serve you until you know what it is like to serve someone.

Loyalty is freely given and cannot be demanded.

The truest form of “friendship” is based on “agape” love.

Jesus of Nazareth redefined love as unconditional and self-sacrificial love for his fellow man; his friends.

As this season approaches, no matter what your worldview; no matter if you believe in God or not; these simple teachings of Jesus of Nazareth carry profound implications for us today. If we are to be the kind of leader that changes the world; the kind of leader that results in “love” from our “followers”; the kind of leader that inspires the kind of creativity and self sacrifice we see in the above two modern examples then we must first understand that the highest place to lead from is often at the feet of those we serve!wash-jesus-washing-apostles-feet-christian-art_290281018067

Movies of Christmas #2 — White Christmas

My second favorite movie at Christmas is “White Christmas” with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye. Unlike “Miracle on 34th Street” this movie has nothing to do with commercialism and the abuse of Christmas. It is a heart felt movie about love, sacrifice, and, well, misunderstanding.

Two soldiers on Christmas Eve 1944, Bob Wallace (Crosby) and Phil Davis (Kaye) are putting on a Christmas show for the troops when their retiring General Waverly (Dean Jagger) comes to bid them farewell. Wallace saves Davis from a collapsing wall and Davis uses this to convince Wallace to form a Broadway show featuring both of them. Wallace reluctantly agrees although he has always been a solo act.

Ten  years later, Wallace and Davis inadvertently end up on a train to Vermont with two sisters, Betty (Rosemary Clooney) and Judy (Vera Ellen) after seeing their act. The sisters are to sing at the Columbia Inn. When they arrive, there is no snow and the inn is about to go under. The men soon find out the inn is owned by General Waverly and his granddaughter. Through a series of twists and turns, Wallace and Davis agree to host a show that will feature the sisters and will bring in a huge audience on Christmas Eve. They surprise the General by bringing back most of the troops who served under him and, of course, at the end of the movie it finally snows!

Three concepts about this movie always impress me:

1 –SNOW! I live in Louisiana. We get snow rarely, if ever at all. If we do get snow, it is in early November or late January. We NEVER have a white Christmas. As a child, I would pray every night in December for a white Christmas and it would never happen. I remember one night when I was 8 standing in the cold outside my back door looking up at a porch light high in the air wishing I would see just one swirling flake of snow!

The train ride to Vermont in the movie features one of my favorite songs: Snow. I love the line “I want to take a bath in snow.” Years later, after I got married my wife and I began snow skiing and one February I skied over the edge of a mountain into a huge drift of snow and I got my snow bath!

This year, I’m not wishing for a white Christmas. Here in Louisiana and next door Texas we have had maybe four rain showers since January. The ground is so dry and the rivers and lakes have dried up. This year, I am praying for a Wet Christmas. Right now, it is raining outside my window and the temperature is about 45. I sat on my front porch with a hot cup of coffee and I watched it rain!

2 — COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS. This is the time of year when depression hits me very hard. I suffer from depression thanks to some errant gene my father inherited from his father. All of the Hennigan men seem to suffer from this kind of melancholy. It was so bad years ago, I went through two years of treatment and ended up writing a book about depression. You can check out my previous post here and my book, “Conquering Depression” here.

My wife, on the other hand, is always practical, cheery, and optimistic. She just doesn’t understand why I don’t just “get over it”. I wish it were that simple. The song, “Count Your Blessings” always warms me inside when I watch this movie. Of all the counseling advice I have received, the best came from my wife. Depression hits most hard for me when I go to bed at night and so, my wife urges me to count my blessings and I will go to sleep. Guess what? It works.

3 — WE’LL FOLLOW THE OLD MAN. This song that bookends the movie is one of the most tear inducing moments I have ever experienced in a movie. Most women wouldn’t understand it. It is because the kind of relationship women have with their friends is the kind of relationship men only dream of. We are stoic and macho and manly men and to show affection toward one another is looked down upon. Or more recently, painted with the wash of some kind of possible sexual or romantic attraction. It is difficult for men to just be friends anymore.

I have several “best” friends and when we see each other now, I give them a hug without hesitation. I really don’t care what the world thinks. These guys are like my brothers. That is why I love this song in the movie. It evokes a time when men cared for each other with brotherly love, philia. It was a time when men would do anything for a pal, a comrade, a buddy. It was a time when men would die for each other. Those days are lost to us now, wandering off in some kind of hazy fog of nostalgia. But, this song, at the end of the movie brings it all back again and makes me appreciate my friends more than ever. Here are the lyrics and snippet of the movie: 

 

We’ll follow the old man wherever he wants to go
Long as he wants to go opposite to the foe

We’ll stay with the old man wherever he wants to stay
Long as he stays away from the battle’s fray

Because we love him, we love him
Especially when he keeps us on the ball

And we’ll tell the kiddies we answered duty’s call
With the grandest son of a soldier of them all

 

Go and watch “White Christmas”. Bring a hanky or two and have your significant other snuggle up beside you. And this season, think about the baby in a manger who grew up to be a man. Will you follow this man wherever He wants to go? I hope so!

%d bloggers like this: