Hope and The Shawshank Redemption

Here’s a simple litmus test to tell if a movie deserves to be in your Top 10 list of favorites.

Imagine you’re channel surfing and you see a movie playing that you have to watch, even though you’ve seen it dozens of times before. That movie, which you find yourself tuning into any time you see it on the TV is likely one of your favorites.

I have several movies that fit that category for me, including Braveheart, Tommy Boy and The Shawshank Redemption.

“The Shawshank Redemption” is one of those movies I find myself watching any time I see it playing on broadcast TV.

Recently, Pastor Rick Warren gave a sermon on “Experiencing Hope During Difficult Times.” I was reminded of The Shawshank Redemption, since one of the main themes in that movie is “hope”.

The Shawshank Redemption is based on a short story by Steven King (yes, that Steven King), but it’s not a horror movie. It’s a movie about prison. Some have dubbed it the greatest prison movie of all time.

The story centers around Andy Dufresne (played by Tim Robbins) who is wrongly convicted of double murder and sent to the notorious Shawshank prison to serve back to back life sentences.

Dufresne quickly befriends Ellis “Red” Redding, played by Morgan Freeman, a murderer who has already served 20 years of a life sentence, and though he sees the error of his foolish teenage act, nevertheless, sees no hope of ever being paroled.

There’s a critical scene about midway through the movie. Andy receives an unexpected shipment of books and vinyl records for the prison library and decides to blare music from an opera record to the entire prison population via the prison loudspeaker system.

This infuriates the warden, who punishes Andy with two weeks in “the hole” – solitary confinement in a room with no light source.

When Andy emerges from confinement his inmate friends are amazed to see him so upbeat after such a harsh punishment.

“Easiest time I ever did” is Andy’s response. “I had Mr. Mozart to keep me company.”

Fear Can Hold You Prisoner.
Hope Can Set You Free.

Andy’s prison-mates are understandably confused. Andy explains that Mozart is inside…in his mind and in his soul and then he declares, “there are places internally that they can’t touch.”

Andy’s friend Red asks, “What are you talking about?”

“Hope”, Andy replies.

Red gets a stern look on his face and says, “Listen here friend. Let me tell you something about hope. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane. It’s got no use on the inside. You better get used to that idea.”

Pastor Rick, in his sermon, stated that we can have hope because we know that the situation we’re in is temporary….it will pass. He encouraged us to focus on that which is eternal instead of things that are temporary.

This is certainly good advice, but sometimes hard to implement. It’s difficult to focus on “eternal” things when there are so many immediate needs staring at you in the face, and often screaming for your attention.

We personally know people who have lost their jobs, are struggling financially, have lost their housing, have lost loved ones, are scrambling to figure out childcare and schooling options for the fall, are dealing with major health concerns with limited access to doctors, and many more issues that are magnified and amplified in this current Covid environment.

How exactly do we experience hope when there is so much pain and struggle in our lives?

I think Andy Dufresne provides a clue. Hope is something internal, rather than external.

Hebrews 6:19, speaking of Jesus, says,

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” (emphasis mine)

The context of this passage is that Jesus is our High Priest. Through His death, He provided atonement for sinful humanity, making it possible for us to experience a relationship with Him.

For the Christian, Jesus is our anchor. He alone provides hope and meaning because He alone can provide ultimate fulfillment and purpose in life.

Where is your hope anchored?
Photo by Ron Smith on Unsplash

But what about all of the tremendous struggles we are facing? They seem overwhelming!

As we navigate life’s current realities, I realize how important the body of Christ is. We need others who can come alongside us when we’re struggling and offer real, tangible, material help, while reminding us of God’s goodness and pointing us to the hope that only Jesus can provide.

At the end of The Shawshank Redemption, Andy writes these fitting words to Red – “Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.”

How are you doing in this current crisis? Are you more like Red – tired, disillusioned and lacking hope?

Or are you more like Andy, with a hope anchored to an internal, immovable source (Jesus).

Whatever your situation, let us know how we can pray for you! (Just click the Prayer tab at the top of the page)

Personally, we are grateful to our family and many friends who have been a source of encouragement and hope to us through the many struggles and trials we’ve faced over the past few months and years. You have helped us to continue to keep our hope anchored in Jesus!

Casting Away 2019

A few nights ago, while channel surfing, I stumbled across the Golden Globes broadcast. Tom Hanks was being honored with the Cecil B. DeMille award for his lasting impact on the movie industry.

During the monologue outlining Mr. Hanks’ long and illustrious career, there were short clips of the many noteworthy films he has starred in, including Saving Private Ryan, Forrest Gump, Apollo 13 and Cast Away.

The short clip of Cast Away showed a scene where Hanks is talking to a face-painted Volleyball he has named Wilson.

Tom Hanks, paints “Wilson” the volleyball, in the movie Cast Away

If you’re not familiar with the movie, the following may be considered a spoiler alert. In the movie, Hanks is the lone survivor of a FedEx plane crash where he finds himself stranded on a deserted island with only a few salvageable packages, one of which is a volleyball.

Hanks paints a face on the volleyball and since it is a Wilson branded ball, he begins calling it Wilson. Throughout the movie, Hanks talks to the ball as if it’s a real person, even responding to the ball as if it has talked back to him.

Jen and Jacob share an embrace in August at the beginning of Plebe Parent Weekend at the U.S. Naval Academy.

This strange dialogue might lead the viewer to conclude that Hanks, being alone on a small deserted island with no human contact, is going mad. But as the movie progresses, it becomes clear that Hanks’ dialogue with Wilson doesn’t indicate a step into insanity, but instead it’s a step to prevent insanity.

Hanks becomes so connected to Wilson that the movie-viewer can feel the anguish as Wilson begins to drift away beyond reach during Hanks’ attempted island escape.

As weird as this may seem, I can relate a bit to that feeling of anguish as the ball floats away. Numerous times this past year, we’ve had to say goodbye to our boys, and they have had to say goodbye to each other. Each time, there is a profound sense of sadness as we go our separate ways.

Jacob (left) and Joshua are all smiles after seeing each other right before Thanksgiving for the first time in months.

Even with amazing technological advancements such as texting and video chat, there still exists a deep longing and profound desire to to be with the people you love.

It appears that as humans we’ve been created with a deep need for human connection; our souls long for the physical presence of others.

In our ministry to Young Professionals, we know that this need and longing for connection IS the biggest need and challenge that they face. All of the most recent research and our own experience affirms that this is the case. Young Adults are desperately seeking meaningful connections with people who are in their life-stage.

Pray for Jacob (left) and Joshua as they enter the 2nd semester of their frosh year apart from each other.

In the past few years, we’ve positioned ourselves well to minister to Young Professionals by providing Leadership Development, Vocational Discipleship and professional level coaching. Yet a primary need and problem is helping Young Professionals develop significant connections with others.

As we reflect back on the lessons of 2019 and look forward to 2020, we would appreciate your prayers in these areas:

  1. Pray for Jen and me to pursue and maintain significant relationships that would feed our souls and encourage us to press on as we face new challenges.
  2. Pray for our boys to develop deep relational connections with others at their respective academies. 
  3. Pray for us to help the Young Professionals we encounter forge solid friendships with others that will spur them to continue to walk with Jesus and serve Him wherever they are.

We are grateful for you and your ministry to us. May you be richly blessed in 2020!

Adventure is Out There!

Enjoying great weather and a great view in South Boston!

Last weekend, we decided to go as a family to see the new Disney Pixar movie The Incredibles 2. It was a fun movie and like most Pixar movies, there were some great life messages communicated through the story.

Pixar movies have all been commercial successes among movie-goers and critics alike!

While debriefing the movie with the family afterward, someone asked, “What are your top 5 Pixar movies?”

I think the typical responses to that question might include movies like Toy Story, Finding Nemo or Monsters Inc. But one Pixar movie that is definitely in my top 5 is the movie UP, which is the story of Carl Fredrickson, who as a boy, dreams of a life of adventure. While fantasizing about traversing exotic canyons and far-off vistas, Carl encounters Ellie, a spit-fired, rambunctious girl who seems to perfectly complement Carl’s shy demeanor. Ellie shows Carl her “Adventure book”, a scrapbook with maps, posters and a host of blank pages to document all the “Stuff I’m Going to Do!”

UP chronicles the story of Carl Frederickson, a man who has always dreamed of adventure!

As the movie progresses, Carl and Ellie grow up, get married, build a home and begin saving for their big adventurous trip. But life continually brings challenges, both financial and health-related, that keep them from taking the trip of their dreams.   

Finally, Ellie gets sick and dies, leaving Carl alone and full of regret that he had not fulfilled the promise to provide a life of adventure that he had made when he was younger

Later in the movie, in a moment of reflection, Carl finds Ellie’s Adventure book. This time, he notices that the formerly blank pages are filled with photos and mementos of their many years together. The last photo of the two, taken just before her death, includes a note that says, “Thanks for the adventure!”

I love the message that adventure is not so much all the things you do but who you do it with. Adventure is more about loving deeply than just having new and novel experiences. When Jesus invites us in John 10:10 to experience the abundant life, I think this is what he means – He invites us into a relationship of knowing and loving Him deeply (with all our heart, soul, mind and strength).

Our 25 year anniversary book, documenting a quarter-century of adventure together!

This May, Jen and I celebrated our 25th year of marriage together. To commemorate our anniversary, I created my own “Adventure Book”, documenting many of the things we’ve done and experienced together – the ups and downs, the good and the bad. When I think back on our 25 years together, I’m so fortunate to have found a person who has loved me deeply and helped to make life such a great adventure!

If you’re reading this, it’s because you’ve likely been a part of our journey somehow. Thanks for being a part of this great adventure that we continue to enjoy together!

Overlooking the beautiful Hudson River from scenic West Point Military Academy, where we dropped off Jacob and Joshua to experience a week of life as a cadet.