Why We All Should Celebrate Goodness in Media

Goodness in Movies

Yesterday was Easter. I know on Mondays I usually put up a Reader Question, but forgive me because I had some other things I wanted to share with you, so I thought I’d write a more personal post.

My daughters were together in Ottawa, where my oldest goes to university, so Keith and I were alone. I texted Rebecca in the morning, “He is risen!”, and she correctly texted back “He is risen indeed!”. I raised her well. :)

I wasn’t really in the Easter mood. I’ve had a really rough week healthwise.

Last weekend my husband and I were in Banff speaking at a FamilyLife marriage conference, and ever since we flew back on Sunday there was something wrong with my right leg. It hurt horribly at night. In the day I was okay, but at night it was excrutiating. By Wednesday the daytime was difficult, too. On Thursday I was in agony. The doctor sent me for an emergency ultrasound to make sure it wasn’t a blood clot (it wasn’t). So she put me on pain killers.

They didn’t touch the pain, and by dinner time I was back in the Emergency almost crying. They gave me even more powerful painkillers which made me awfully happy, but night time was still excrutiating, and I really couldn’t walk.

On Saturday I woke up and it was gone. Just like that! I think it was an inflammation of a blood vessel or a superficial vein, aggravated by flying. I’ve had problems with my veins ever since my kids were born, so it seems logical. When I fly to Vancouver in May I’ll have to wear pressure stockings on the flight. But needless to say I wasn’t in much of a mood for anything this weekend. It really threw me. I’m getting old!

So as good as our service was yesterday morning, I thought I needed more. And so I asked my husband and my mom, and a few other people from church, if they’d come with me to watch the Heaven is For Real movie in the afternoon.

I read that book in one sitting a few years ago on the anniversary of my baby boy’s death. I really loved it.

Heaven Is For RealFor those of you who don’t know the plot, Heaven is for Real is about a little 4-year-old boy has emergency surgery after his appendix burst. It looks bad on the table, but he pulls through. Then, over the next two years or so, he starts revealing things little by little that make very little sense. He talks about angels singing to him. He talks about seeing his mom on the phone crying at the same time as his dad is in a different room. He says that Jesus has a horse. He sees a picture of his great-grandfather when he’s old and replies, “that’s not what Pop looks like. But he’s really nice.” When he sees a picture of him when he was young, he recognizes him. And so on and so on.

The most moving part of the book for me was when he tells his mother, “I miss my sister.” His mother replies, “Cassie’s right here.” And he says, “No, I miss my other sister.” Turns out his mother had a miscarriage, and that baby is now in heaven, and she is growing. She was just about the right age when he saw her. And she doesn’t have a name. “She’s waiting for you to get to heaven to name  her.”

For someone who has always wondered what heaven is like for my baby boy, that meant a lot to me. As I said in my original post about the book, I know that this book isn’t Scripture and we shouldn’t treat it as such. But it is nonetheless interesting, and I do find comfort in it.

Anyway, they made it into a movie with some pretty big-name actors (Greg Kinnear and Thomas Haden Church, for instance). The little boy who plays Colton is great. And I thought they did the movie really well.

Was it perfect? No. There are two glaring bits for me: at one point they seem to insinuate that you get to heaven because God loves you, and that it doesn’t have to do with salvation. And they left out some of the more Christian parts of what Colton saw (the sending lightning down from heaven to strengthen people, for instance, symbolizing the Holy Spirit).

I think many people would latch on to that first part and declare it a “horrible movie” because it compromises. I just don’t see it that way.

Could it have been more Christian? Yes.

But what does the movie do? It shows very clearly that heaven IS for real, and it shows very clearly that Jesus is the central figure there. Those are two important things to know, and two important things to get people thinking about.

And it offers this challenge: “would we live life differently if we knew heaven was for real?” I think we would. And I think it’s a message the world needs to hear.

Have you been in a video store or looked through the pickings on Netflix recently? They’re awful. They make you want to take a bath after just seeing the covers. So even if a movie isn’t perfect, I’m glad they’re making some that are beautiful and that bring hope and that make people think. This one, especially, offers great potential for that.

I haven’t seen Noah, and I’ve stayed away from reading any of the articles either pro or con about whether you should see it. It’s not the kind of movie I’d see anyway, and I hate the back and forth that Christians often have about stuff like this.

But it seems to me that sometimes we demand too much purity, and declare that everything is horrible unless it’s absolutely pure.

That would be true if it was a church putting it on, or someone who claimed to be Christian. But the movie companies aren’t claiming to be Christian. And personally, I’m glad they’re making some movies with better messages that make people think.

Again, I don’t even know what all the controversy with Noah is about, but I do worry that the more we yell and say, “it wasn’t like that!”, the less likely they are to make more movies like this one, which I did believe really merited our favour.

I’m glad our society is focusing more on faith and spirituality today.

That’s going to mean that they’re going to say things that we won’t like because they aren’t doctrinally pure. But let’s be glad that our society is at least having the conversation, something that for years they wouldn’t do. And maybe we need to figure out a way to be part of that conversation without always sounding angry. We certainly don’t have to go see every movie that touches on faith that’s out there, but I don’t think we need to yell and picket, either. We can just simply become part of a dialogue with people we know, instead of sounding so angry.

And let’s remember that there are real believers working behind the scenes to try to do what they can to get the right message out there–or at least the least compromised message they can. Let’s support them in prayer, and say “thank you” a little more, and be grateful that producers are even willing to explore it. If they’re willing to explore it, it means more people are interested in it. And if they’re interested in it, then they’d be open to conversation. But they likely won’t be open if we’re yelling and angry.

Christian Discouragement: Before your give that "helpful suggestion", check yourself!I posted on Facebook that I was going to see Heaven is for Real, and several criticized me because it’s not Christian, supposedly. Doing that on Facebook, where it’s public, is really counterproductive to the gospel. It makes us all look really, really angry. Let’s go back to “what would Jesus do”? Or let’s ask “What did Paul do?” Paul stood in Athens in Acts 17, and said, “you have an idol to an ‘unknown god’. I want to tell you about that god.” He took something that was already part of their culture, and then expanded it. He didn’t yell at them for having that idol; he praised them for searching, and then helped them fill in the blanks. Maybe we should take a similar approach.

All of this reminds me of an article I wrote a year ago called, “Are you being an instrument of discouragement?” So often we discourage those in ministry by saying something like, “I just have to tell you, in Christian love, that you’re totally wrong”, or “you’re giving Christ a bad name.” It’s an important article, and it likely warrants rereading.

Tell me: have you seen Heaven is for Real? What did you think?

"Nearing Home": What is Your Life About?

'Prayer' photo (c) 2010, Chris Yarzab - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

When I was sixteen a pastor friend of my grandfather’s asked me to give a report to his church about a missions trip I had just come back from. I think he wanted to fire up his church to think more about short term missions. So I went, and said something (I have absolutely no idea what now), and that was that.

But apparently after that one episode, this pastor went to my grandparents, who were living in a nursing home in Toronto, and told them that I was an amazing speaker.

My grandfather had had a stroke at the age of 67, and lived for another 25 years. In those 25 years all he could do was pray and read. He had been a very active man, but his life became very small. And so pray he did.

I found my grandparents difficult when I was younger, because they were so very, well, OLD. And it wasn’t fun to visit them. And Grandpa never asked about me or what I was doing. He would just talk for an hour about all of his memories, telling me the same stories over and over again. It was supremely painful for a teenager.

And yet, in the years since he died, I have seen how his prayers have mattered. Because there were three main ministries that Grandpa prayed for: 100 Huntley Street (the TV show), World Vision, and The Billy Graham Organization.

And he prayed fervently that I would speak for the Lord, and that I would be involved in ministry.

Last year I had the surreal experience of sitting in the World Vision headquarters after being on 100 Huntley Street earlier that morning (I guest host every now and then), and meeting with World Vision staff about some speaking tours they were sending me on last spring. I could almost hear Grandpa in heaven laughing.

His prayers mattered. They really accomplished a lot in my life. He prayed specifically for what I would do, and for what I would become, and for how I would serve God. I never knew my grandfather well, though I spent a lot of time with him. But I did know that he prayed, even if, at the time, I didn’t realize the impact it would have.

And so it was that when I was asked to review Billy Graham’s book Nearing Home, I jumped at the chance, because it made me think of this grandfather all over again. I’ve also been thinking about heaven so much lately, and especially because I have a son there, that I thought it would be interesting to see what Billy Graham would say. So I know I normally write about marriage, and that’s coming again next week and later this weekend! But I thought we’d take some time today to explore another topic that’s important for family.

I heard last night that Mr. Graham had been taken into the hospital in North Carolina, and so I said some prayers for him, and thought I’d write and publish this review today, to ask others of you to pray for this great man.

The book is very Billy Graham; it focuses on making sure people are saved on almost every page, which is wonderful. But for me, I wanted to see what advice he would give to those who were aging. And I’d like to sum up some of his main points:

1. ALL our lives are to be used for God’s service

There really isn’t retirement in God’s plan. Certainly you may retire from work, but we should never think that we “deserve” a life of leisure, where we don’t care about anyone other than ourselves. Our whole life is a gift from God, and God wants to use the aged, too. Never think that you are too old.

He says, “Whatever you do, keep your mind and your body occupied; don’t give laziness or boredom a chance to take root in your soul. The devil delights in someone who is idle or bored; he knows this leads to temptation or discouragement.” Great words.

2. Prayer is important; pray specifically for your offspring

Billy Graham apparently has 19 grandchildren and 43 great-grandchildren. And he prays for them each individually daily. He prays specific things, too. He told the story of one woman who was so old she couldn’t move around anymore, and her eyes were so bad, she couldn’t read. And so she just wrote long, long prayer lists, and prayed all day. And she found that she was so busy! She was always telling her nursing aides how she doesn’t know how she has time for everything, what with having to get through her prayer list.

Prayer has never been something I’ve been very good at. And yet these sorts of stories excite me. Billy Graham says that when the body starts to shut down, and the eyes start to go, perhaps God does that because He wants us to stop looking at this life and to start to look at the next. And one’s attitude towards prayer changes when you’re old, and reflects that.

So he prays specific things for each of his offspring. I think that’s beautiful.

3. Keep Focusing on the Future while you Remember the Past

He talks a lot about grief, specifically the grief of losing his wife. But his attitude is the same: focus on the future. It is not that remembering is bad; remembering is actually a good thing, and we should be remembering how God moved and we need to tell the next generation coming these stories. But don’t get stuck there. Keep your focus on God and on what He is doing now, not just on what happened to you in the past. And you will be able to keep on living, even in grief.

4. Get Your Affairs in Order

He’s very firm and strict that older people must prepare wills, power of attorneys, and do everything they can to get their affairs in order. And they must be honest if it’s time to stop driving. Great advice. (By the way, we all need wills, especially if we have children. Do you have one?).

5. Think About Home

And then he ends by telling us to think about home, for that is what heaven is. When you get older, you are simply nearing home.

'Billy Graham Franklin Graham Cleveland Stadium Ohio June 11,1994' photo (c) 1994, Paul Walsh - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

I find myself tearing up several times reading this book, and hopefully I’m still a good 40 years away from being old! But it was a lovely book. Here’s one snippet that really moved me:

I still remember the sadness I always felt when visiting former President Reagan, after [Alzheimer’s] had tightened its grip on his mind…I last saw him on the lawn of his home…at the invitation of his wife, Nancy. After I visited with her in their living room, she asked if I would like to say hello to Mr. Reagan, and I readily agreed. We stepped outside into the bright California sun. A nurse was helping the former president with his lunch. He didn’t seem to notice either Nancy or me as we greeted him. After a short (and one-sided) conversation, Nancy asked me to lead in prayer–something I’d always done whenever I visited them, whether in Washington or California. Afterward, as Nancy was escorting me back to my car, I asked her, “Do you think he knew me?” She responded, “Not until you prayed–but hearing you then, I believe he knew who was praying for him.”

I don’t know why that affected me so much, except the thought that his voice praying is what would bring Reagan “back”. Imagine being recognized primarily by your prayers. Now that is a testimony.

I honestly think it would make a great Christmas gift for older parents, especially if you want to open the conversation up about making sure they have wills, etc.

One thing that I was always sad about was that as my grandfather aged, he found it difficult to read books, because he couldn’t hold the book in his hands. How he would have loved a Kindle! Can you imagine? Something so small and light, and it’s so easy to turn a page, and you can make the type bigger. I really think a Kindle is a great Christmas gift for grandparents, even if it seems like technology and the aged don’t go together. This is the exception. And then give them Nearing Home on Kindle, too.

I’m thinking a lot about my grandparents today. We really didn’t always see eye to eye or have an intimate relationship, but they loved me, and they left a tremendous legacy with their prayers. And for that I am grateful.

Now it’s your turn: What was your relationship with your grandparents like? What do you think about retirement? Leave a comment!

Book has been provided courtesy of Thomas Nelson and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Thomas Nelson.

My Son is Waiting for Me In Heaven

I skipped church today.

Heaven Is For Real I don’t do that very often. I was actaully IN the building, but I didn’t go into the service. Instead, in a separate meeting with my pastor earlier this week, he had casually mentioned a book he had been given, called “Heaven is for Real“. It’s the story of a 4-year-old boy who went to heaven briefly during an emergency surgery for his burst appendix. Over the next few months, he started revealing this in casual conversation about what heaven was like.

Instead of listening to a sermon, I decided I needed to read that book.

You see, fifteen years ago today my son died. He was just a month old, but the pain is still with me. Usually I’m fine, but this has just been a hard summer, and his birthday last month and this anniversary of his death have just hit me harder than usual. I didn’t think I was up to church. So I read the book.

It is a beautiful book. I gave it to my daughter; she’s reading it this afternoon.

I don’t want to give it away, but let me tell you just a few of the things that sometimes haunt me as a mom, and what this book said.

This little boy, Colton, had lost a sibling before he was born. His mom miscarried at just a few months along. And when Colton was in heaven, a girl came up to him, and hugged him, and spoke to him and told him that she was his sister. A few months after Colton “came back”, he casually mentioned meeting his other sister. His parents froze, because they had never told Colton about the baby. And they hadn’t known it was a girl. When they asked him how big she was, he said she was “a little smaller than Cassie”. Cassie was Colton’s older sister; the baby had been miscarried when Cassie was a year old.

I have always wondered if babies age in heaven, but it sounds like this little boy’s sister was just the same age as she would have been.

And as I was reading that, for the first time, it hit me. My son is 15. He’s 15! He’s not a perpetual baby; he’s enjoying his life and he’s a teenager. It just made me smile.

There’s so much more in the book, told through the innocent eyes of a small child, and it’s very beautiful. I’ve usually been skeptical about stories like this; I always feared that it was people looking for attention. But earlier this year I finally read 90 Minutes in Heaven, and then I read this, and both books completely match up to Scripture. They don’t contradict Scripture at all. And they’re very encouraging.

I have always said that when I think of heaven, I think of meeting Jesus, and I think of Christopher showing me around, being my tour guide. But it’s nice to know that my other baby–the one that I miscarried–will be there, too. He or she is 18 now. And they’re happy, and they’re safe, and they’re joyful, and they’re waiting.

I just needed that today.  And if you need some more assurance of heaven, I urge you to read Heaven is for Real. It really is beautiful.

Glimpse of Heaven

'Heaven visited me' photo (c) 2008, Kevin Dooley - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario. Here’s this week’s!

My mother always warned me that time goes faster as you age, but I never really believed her until this summer, when I started to notice how fast my own girls are growing up. Yet it is not only the younger generation that is growing older. Last week my husband’s oldest friend lost his mother, after a very long illness. Life suddenly seems rather short.

A few weeks ago my mother-in-law was listing various health complaints, when I commented, “growing old sure doesn’t sound that fun, but at least it’s better than the alternative.”

My dear mother-in-law then said something very wise. “But how do we know?” She asked. “I’m sure heaven is far better than what we have here.”

I believe it is, and yet often that belief doesn’t translate into my everyday life. Too often I live thinking only of the here and now. Yet if there is something beyond this life, shouldn’t we spend some time figuring out what that is?

Perhaps that is easier for children, who seem to have a better grasp on spiritual things. In just two short weeks I’ll remember the anniversary of my son’s death, fifteen years ago now. His memory is still so much a part of our family, and so my daughters have grown up without being shielded about death, as many children are. And yet it has not made them sad. I remember listening in on a conversation then 6-year-old Katie was having with a friend who was over to play. The friend had picked up a picture of my son and asked Katie about him. She replied, “That’s my big brother Christopher. I never got to meet him on earth, but when I get to heaven he’ll be my tour guide.” I’ve always liked that image.

It is in times of grief that these images are often sealed, either for good or for bad. We either reject the possibility of a deity and an afterlife, or we run desperately into God’s arms for comfort. I have chosen the latter, and I have found that even in tears, it brings peace.

It was that peace that radiated at the funeral last week, as my friend Bruce reflected on his mother’s Margaret’s life. The service was a beautiful testimony to her sense of humour and her faith. And Bruce ended with a story from December 23, 1986. He had called his mother to come and pick him up in Belleville, but she could not find the keys to the car. “Check your pockets,” she said. He did. And the keys rattled. She told him that perhaps it was time for him to learn a lesson and walk home.

With no other alternative, he started to trudge to his house northeast of the city. Over the years, Bruce admits, the story has become embellished. He admits now that he did not walk uphill the whole way. He was not barefoot. He did not have to climb over mountainous snow banks. And yet, on that day, he remembers his overwhelming thought was of his mother, safe and warm at home, while she left him to walk alone. And as he stood at his mother’s funeral, he had that same overwhelming feeling: she was safe and sound, at home, and he was left to walk alone.

When we lose someone we love, that overwhelming sense of loneliness is inevitable. I know those days will descend upon me again, whether it be soon or decades in the future. I hope, though, that those days come, I will be able to keep three images in mind: the God who welcomes me; Margaret, safe and happy at home; and my son, waiting to be my tour guide.

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What a Beautiful Obituary–and I mean that!

My mother’s cousin died last week. They were quite close as children, but she’s out of the country on a missions trip to Kenya, and so she doesn’t actually know about it now. I guess I will have to tell her when she arrives home. I didn’t see the point in emailing her while she’s over there.

Anyway, I didn’t know him well. I only ever met him once at my grandparents’ memorial service, because he lived across the country from me. But after reading this obituary, I wish I had known him better!

He lived and died in a small town, where everybody knows your name, and you’re allowed to write really, really long obituaries! So this one was full of fun and interesting facts.

I won’t copy the whole thing, but here’s the last bit:

Mark always listened to people, never left anyone out and had a real passion for serving his community. This translated into years of volunteer service, including Prison Fellowship at Milner Ridge Correctional Center, the Winnipeg Flying Club and Open Doorways Haitian Orphanage. Mark was well known and respected in the local community. He was a very caring and compassionate person, and always put the needs of others before his own. A very descriptive and great story teller, he was able to command anyone’s attention and was a natural born leader. Mark was an avid pilot, enjoying numerous flying adventurers; including soaring through the mountains of BC.

Over the past two years, Mark’s second home became Lake Wanipigow. It was here he was able to spend countless weekends with his sons and favourite dog Maggie, building cottages, fishing and enjoying the beauties of nature. He had a true appreciation for the outdoors and loved to wake up early at the Lake. He would sit with his Bible at the water’s edge and write in his log book about the activities of the birds and beavers and how wonderful life was. He loved to watch the sunrise and make the most of each day.

It was the simple things around him in life that he never took for granted, commenting daily how fortunate and thankful he was. Above all, Mark was absolutely devoted to his wife and sons. He was a father who always involved himself in every detail of his son’s lives and supported, respected and loved his wife unconditionally. He was a man of strong faith, believing in the power and strength of Jesus Christ’s love and the beauty and peace that would await him after his passing.

Isn’t that lovely? I am so looking forward to spending a million years or so in heaven beside Mark, at the water’s edge, and catching up on life. I hope my obituary will be that beautiful one day, though I am sad that he left this earth when he was only 62, and never really knew his grandchildren. But at least he is safe and secure with his Saviour.