Archives For suffering

I am a huge proponent of studying the lives of the great people of history. Don’t get me wrong, I love watching a modern-day trailblazer in action but there is something more pleasing about studying another’s life in full to understand their story and what we can learn from it.

I want to know their dreams, adventures, successes, struggles, and what they learned in the process. Then I want to study the life application.

Those who know me and have read this blog are aware that I am a student of Winston Churchill as are many others. The latest book of his I am reading is Young Titan: The Making of Winston Churchill by Michael Shelden.

Most people know Winston Churchill by his magnanimous speeches with his deep British accent, his cigar in hand as he walked, and the way he led the United Kingdom with the Allies to victory in World War II. He is one of the most quotable people of all time and books continue to be written about him and I suppose more will continue to be for years to come.

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What most people do not know is that Winston Churchill was considered an incredible failure by the age of 40.

Like Churchill, we begin life with so much promise and hope – the world is to be conquered. Churchill was desperate to establish himself as a fast-moving politician in Edwardian England. He was an astute student of history and knew that he must be daring in how he lived to gain attention. He served in the military for a few years and in 1899 he was commissioned as a war correspondent during the Boer War. Churchill became famous worldwide for his fight in a train ambush and later through his daring escape from a POW camp in South Africa. Most Americans don’t know that he was a celebrity in the US even in his twenties and went on a massive speaking tour in North America to share stories from his Boer War heroics.

It’s easy to canonize Winston Churchill because of his successes. But, pay closer attention to his failures that made him who we know him today. 

During the First World War, Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty and the chief proponent of the invasion of Turkey now known as the Gallipoli campaign. His strategy was to create a southern link to Russia, their ally. The Turks were a skillful and determined enemy, repelled the allies, and the campaign costed the lives of many young Australians and New Zealanders (ANZAC troops). Perhaps not solely responsible for the tactical defeat on the ground, the campaign was never the less Churchill’s idea and it crippled him politically for years.

Churchill was a big, fat, failure. 

We now know the rest of the story as it didn’t end there.

Churchill entered the political wilderness, dug in his heels, and marched back to eventually become Prime Minister during World War II.

So what do we learn from Churchill’s first half of life?

Churchill said it best,

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

We may not live life with the type of drama that Churchill lived but we do share the ups and downs of life. Which honest person hasn’t had setbacks in life? We all have taken a punch or two to the face and even have fallen. It hurts admitting it but it is part of life.

“Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.”

Churchill’s life has taught us that failure is part of our journey and we become better because of it.

For that, we can keep getting back up and moving forward because victory in life is found in how we respond to the punches.

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Recently Brooke and I saw Mumford and Sons at the famous Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.  I’d been a fan of theirs for a while but the experience seeing them live is something I will not forget.  There were a few things that stuck out but one in particular.

They seemed to love what they were doing and here is why:

  • There were smiles and laughter during the entire evening by all.
  • Their harmonies reinforced that they are not centered around one person.
  • They invited locals to play with them to bring connection to the community.
  • They invited the audience to be a part of what they were doing and were gracious
  • They danced, they were loud, and gave an unforgettable experience
Bottom line is that they seemed to be doing exactly what they were meant to do.

The day of the show, the band had flown to Nashville all the way from London, England. They must have been exhausted from the trip and I can imagine for any band that a live show can be a drag when you are not sleeping much. They didn’t show any discontent whatsoever and seemed incredibly excited to play at The Ryman. I learned that Mumford and Sons perform like this at every show. It is now weeks later but their joy and enthusiasm stays with me.

What if in life I approached all things this same way as Mumford? 

Life is not always the same type of art but can we aspire for that same type of joy? 

I have plenty of friends going through very difficult circumstances so a post like this could be interpreted as insensitive.  I’ve learned through time and through the Bible that I should expect trials and suffering. Personally life is not particularly easy now but compared to so many others, all is well in perspective. It is draining when you are going through any sort of pain but when you stop to look up and around you, you can see the light. I have a friend at work who said her nine-year old son was so worried about life, especially dying. I remember having strange feelings like that as a kid. It seemed irrational to me now but then it felt like the weight of the world was on my shoulders. Even with little responsibility, there is something about us that wants to worry and dwell on the negative. What does it get us?

I have noticed a common ebb and flow in life. It is an up and down of emotions and it is easy to get trapped in a valley. Just watch cable news and you’ll be never escape it. Some stay in that valley longer than others but in my experience the more I dwell on the fact that I’m in a rut the longer I stay there. James reminds us in this way in his epistle.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.-James 1:2-4 (NIV)

It’s a reminder that we’re not meant to live an easy life.

There is a reason for our pain because God refines us in the process and shows us what joy is meant to be. I want to live with joy the way God designed me. It has caused me to listen carefully to him for when he whispers through my experiences. C.S. Lewis reminds us,

God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.-The Problem of Pain

Next time I am feeling down I will be reminded of that Mumford and Sons night, go to prayer, read God’s word and find that joy.

It comes down to a choice. Choose joy.

Imagine crashing in the ocean in a B-24.  You drift thousands of miles with two others for weeks. Sharks try to eat you.  You are strafed (shot at) by the enemy.  On top of that you are captured by the Japanese. Nonstop torture ensues for two years.  When the war ends in 1945 you are released and lose half your body weight due to being starved and beaten.

5 years later…

Read this scene after the person, Louie Zamperini, who endured what I described above revisits his POW camp in Japan.

“Before Louie left Sugamo (the prison), the colonel who was attending him asked Louie’s former guards to come forward.  In the back of the room, the prisoners stood up and shuffled into the aisle.  They moved hesitantly, looking up at Louie with small faces.

Louie was seized by childlike, giddy exuberance.  Before he realized what he was doing, he was bounding down the aisle.  In bewilderment, the men who had abused him watched him come to them, his hands extended, a radiant smile on his face.” – excerpted from Unbroken copyright 2010 by Laura Hillenbrand.

After I read this I couldn’t believe his reaction.

He shook hands with the enemy.

What Zamperini experienced was beyond what anyone should endure.  And what did he do?

He extended his hand.

He forgave.

Grace appeared and Jesus is revealed in his story.  Let us take notice. It is beautiful.

———

We have a lot to look forward to this year in 2014. I highly encourage you to read Unbroken but the feature film will be coming out this Christmas. You can watch the trailer here.

Recently I watched the movie Valkyrie starring Tom Cruise, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, and Eddie Izzard.  If you don’t know much about the story, there have been detailed and exciting documentaries on the subject but it short, it is about the plot to assassinate Hitler in 1944 by Germans.  Tom Cruise plays the lead character Claus Von Stauffenberg who led the failed assassination.  Brilliantly directed by Bryan Singer (Superman Returns, The Usual Suspects), the story comes to life in Hollywood style.  The movie is quite underrated primarily because it was written off by viewers because it featured Tom Cruise during the period of his freak out in the media.  I was intrigued by the story.

The movie got me thinking about the tremendous sacrifice in the story led by these brave Germans in the face of evil.  Americans in particular tend to think of all Germans living in 1930s and 1940s Germany as “Nazis” but it is so far from the truth.   There was brave people throughout all of Germany who who fought openly behind the scenes against the Nazis. One of them was the great German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  I have been reading a biography on him, Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxes.  Metaxes previously had wrote the story Amazing Grace about William Wilberforce fighting to end the British slave trade.  Metaxes understands great sacrifice in his stories and with Bonhoeffer, it was about the role of the church in the face of evil.  I am of German descent so my passion is to learn more about these people and honor their lives.

I can’t believe I am m quoting Braveheart but this line is so powerful and to the point: “Every man dies, it’s just a question of how and why.”

The question kept popping up in my head, what am I dying for?

I began to think about those before me who have made such immense sacrifice. Some that came to mind: Martin Luther King, Jr. died for the injustice and suffering of the African American people, Claus Von Stauffenberg and others in the Valkyrie conspiracy died to save Germany, Bonhoeffer died to save his country and the message of his King, Jesus, Lt. Mike Murphy died “for the men next to him” in Afghanistan, Nelson Mandela stood up to fight the injustice of apartheid while forgiving those in it, and Jesus died for all of us and all of it.

Then there are those close to me that have been tremendous examples.

In high school, my cousin Carolyn overheard some other kids talking about “blowing and shooting up the school.”  This was in years following Columbine so things like this was not to be played around with at schools especially then.  She risked her reputation to make sure kids are protected.

When I was 18, my father took a week off work to join me and friends hiking in Colorado.  His boss could not reach him by phone during that period and he was let go a couple months later because his boss didn’t feel that he was “committed” enough. My father sacrificed for me and our relationship.

For justice.  For country.  For a friend.  For a son.  To just “do the right thing.” All in the name of love.

But…

I need to die for something?

Well, it may not mean you actually dying but what in this short life are you “risking”?  I’m challenged to figure out what this means to me.  I may never encounter a situation of having to stand up to a “Hitler” or a “Terrorist.”  But I know I need to “risk” in order to “live.”

Okay back to Braveheart: “Every man dies, not every man really lives.”

For me, this has been a time to engage with my two little girls and my wife and play less golf.  I used to play everyday until my early twenties.  I know that I need to take more out of my leisure time and devote it to helping others, I’m just not sure what exactly.  It may also mean that I need to break away from the “traditional” elements of life and embark on the unknown of a career.  Lots to pray about as I clearly don’t have all the answers.

What about you?

-Is your business doing something “on the fringe”?  You can go about your business as well but you can change the way things are done.

-Do you defend the reputation of someone being misrepresented at work?

-Do you stand up for the kid being bullied in the hall?

-Does your church needs people to work the night of your favorite TV show?  God gave us DVR, use it.

-When you drive down the street when you see someone who is genuinely homeless what will you do next time?

Everyday you are approached with a situation involving potential sacrifice. You may not have to die for it but you will have to make the tough decision.  It takes courage.  It takes faith.

Don’t just “let it be.”

Life is worth sacrifice, always.


PS.  I am blessed to work with a tremendous man and author, Max Lucado.  In his upcoming book Outlive Your Life: You Were Made to Make a Difference, Max shares this in the opening chapter:

“A few years back, three questions rocked my world.  They came from different people in the span of a month. Question 1: Had you been a German Christian during World War II, would you have taken a stand against Hitler?  Question 2: Had you lived in the South during the civil rights conflict, would you have taken a stand against racism?  Question 3: When your grandchildren discover you lived during a day in which 1.75 billion people were poor and 1 billion were hungry, how will they judge your response?

I didn’t mind the first two questions.  They were hypothetical.  I’d like to think I would have taken a stand against Hitler and fought against racism. But those days are gone, and those choices were not mine.  But the third question has kept me awake at night.  I do live today; so do you.  We are given a choice…and opportunity to make a big difference during a difficult time.  What if we did?  What if we rocked the world with hope?  Infiltrated all corners of God’s love and life?  What if we followed the example of the Jerusalem church?  This tiny sect expanded into a world-changing force.  We still drink from their wells and eat from their trees of faith.  How did they do it?  What can we learn from their priorities and passion?”

It is incredible that it has been 21 years since A River Runs Through It released.  I was a mere 14 years of age and trying to figure out what the world was about then.  To be honest, I have not ceased that pursuit. The tears still run down my face when I watch this beautiful film.

The movie is timeless and I’ve always thought it as one of my top 10 favorite movies. Robert Redford beautifully narrates the film.  You can sense his voice connecting with the author as one looking back at life reflecting on the journey and what one has learned. To add, Mark Isham’s score completes the emotions on-screen. I listened to the soundtrack when writing this.

The story is from the perspective of Norman Maclean played by Craig Sheffer and his interactions with his family after he comes home from college in the 1920s. His brother Paul played by Brad Pitt in particular is wild and rebellious but the connection between them remains deep as does their heritage as Macleans living in the beautiful state of Montana. I don’t have a brother but I’ve come to appreciate what it means to care for someone no matter where they are or how rebellious they may be. My uncle is one whom I love and now could be near meeting his maker (since writing this post, he passed on July 2nd, 2010, his birthday). My mother has been like the character Norman and my uncle in his later life has been the character Paul. It has not been easy and in many ways the whole family has wanted to give up on him. But we have not. There is a conversation between Paul and Norman that illustrates my mother and uncle’s situation.

Paul: Couldn’t you find him?
Norman: The hell with him.
Paul: Well, I thought we were supposed to help him.
Norman: How the hell do you help that son of a bitch?
Paul: By taking him fishing.
Norman: He doesn’t like fishing. He doesn’t like Montana and he sure as hell doesn’t like me.
Paul: Well, maybe what he likes is somebody trying to help him.

Anyone who struggles to help a loved one might understand this line from Paul, “Maybe what he likes is somebody trying to help him.” Paul is speaking of himself if you follow the story and Norman immediately understands. I pray that it doesn’t get this way for my daughters as they grow older but I would never give up as my mother (nor their 93-year old mother) never gave up on my uncle.

There is another important line in the movie spoken by Norman’s father in one of his last sermon: “And so it those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them – we can love completely without complete understanding.”

I feel as if I’ve been rescued many times by my friends.  And I have even tried to rescue a few.  My mother has been such a great example of how to love completely without complete understanding.

This is why it is so important to love and forgive.  We live in a broken world.  Lower your expectations but remain hopeful.

A fish may rise.

“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.  The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time.  On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.”

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