Toy Story 3: The Wilderness of the Playroom

Being an emotional guy (it comes with the territory of being a writer), it’s rare that I don’t cry in movies. I seek out unity and beauty in storytelling, and when all the pieces flow together like a great symphony, I’m a goner.

Now, it’s fine to let the floodgates open in the privacy of your own home, but poor Sarabeth and I had no idea what sort of emotional toll was waiting for me at the theaters when we went to see the latest Toy Story installment.

Those who have seen it know what I’m talking about. During the closing scene, when Andy is giving all of his beloved toys away, Sarabeth, being more of a rock than I am, turns to me and can practically see the entire movie screen in my wet eyes and drenched cheeks.

“Are you okay?” she asked. I could only nod my head, not fully convincing her that I was. She rolled her eyes and shook her head, probably thinking, “I married such a sissy.” Needless to say, we had to wait until the lights came back on in the theater to make a safe and somewhat dignified departure. (Recently I asked her when she had seen me cry the hardest and she said it was during Toy Story 3. I personally thought it was when we watched My Dog Skip.)

To make myself feel better, I googled the question, “How many men in their 20’s cried during Toy Story 3?” The vast number of confessors helped restore my masculinity. But why such an emotional response? I’m sure there are many answers to this question: Nostalgia; saying goodbye to childhood; leaving Andy; we’re all just a bunch of saps… I would like to propose another answer. I think somewhere deep down we envy Woody’s loyalty. He’s not perfect by any means, and he could be faulted for a lot of things, but his biggest fault could be his steadfast devotion to others. And it’s not even his loyalty to Andy that we envy, it’s his loyalty to fulfill what he was meant to do – to be played with. But the passage of time had stripped him and his friends of that opportunity.

We have all been caught in the wilderness. With an abundance of motivation and a large supply of talents, we’ve been stopped in our tracks and refused permission to proceed with our goals. Maybe you’re waiting for your adoption papers. Or you don’t have the funds to invest in your talents. Maybe the economy turned your dream job into a nightmare. Or you’ve got plenty of love to give, but no one to give it to. These are all situations where we should feel most at home with many characters from the Bible, particularly the Israelites who were forced to wander the wilderness for forty years for their sins. Many of us are in the wilderness because of our sins – laziness, lack of faith, fill in the blank. And others of us are just suffering the consequences of a fallen world, or you just haven’t reached Gods timing yet. We can list off a hundred different reasons why we’re in the wilderness, but the fact is the wilderness is chillingly real and we are very much in it.

But the point is, what will you do while you’re in the wilderness? Will you follow my lead and pout, stomp your foot and complain to God while feeling sorry for yourself in the corner of a room? Or will you follow Paul’s lead and find joy in the darkness of a damp prison? Or Jesus’, spurring the temptations of the Devil? Or Joshua and Caleb, holding steadfast to the God they love even while everyone they know and love is falling dead around them and their day-to-day lives are more mundane than our own 9-5’s?

I think it’s appropriate that Disney/Pixar’s most evil villain is not a dragon or a witch or even a puppy-snatcher. In fact, Lotso, Toy Story 3’s antagonist, is probably one of the most evil villains in most movies combined. Satan comes to us in the form of a loveable, pink teddy bear who smells like strawberries. God might put us in the wilderness, but Satan is there to meet us head-on. He’ll convince you that a) the wilderness isn’t so bad, that life isn’t meant to be enjoyed so you might as well accept the status quo, or b) you deserve better than this, how dare God leave you in such a wretched state; curse Him, spit on Him, leave Him!

Brothers and sisters, no matter who you are or where you’re at in life, you’re in the wilderness right now. Life is a wilderness of wandering and finding truth, waiting out the storms and fighting the good fight. Those who trust in Jesus Christ know that there will be an end to this wilderness and we will live in Paradise in the end. But to those of you who do not put your hope and trust in God, this is the greatest paradise you will ever know and your wilderness will be waiting for you on the other side and it will never ever end, and once you’re there, trusting in God will do no good.

But while we’re here, trust n God that this meaningless wandering will come to an end, and that when you’re in Jesus, there is actually nothing meaningless at all about your wilderness stay. Joseph trusted God in prison. David praised God in hiding. And Joshua and Caleb? They were the only ones who had enough faith in God to see the promised land at the end of the 40 years, and their efforts were greatly rewarded.

Woody held out until the very end to do what he was meant to do. Even in the face of adversary from his friends, apparent abandonment from his owner, hostile adversaries, betrayal and even death, Woody never once lost sight of who he was supposed to be and what he was made for. And we shouldn’t either. We are here to praise God and worship Him. That’s our purpose for being here. I wonder, if they made a movie about Joshua and Caleb, if I would cry in the end of that one too, because I certainly envy and long for their loyalty. And you should, too.

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Letting Go

Here’s a fascinating and insightful take on Pixar films as a whole. This is taken from the book The Art of Up by Tim Hauser:

Taken as a whole, Pixar’s films can be viewed as serialized chapters in a single life: from sibling rivalry, early attachment (Toy Story), and socialization (A Bug’s Life), to maturation (Monter’s Inc.), separation, and parenthood (Toy Story 2, Finding Nemo); from protecting the nuclear family (The Incredibles), shifting out of the fast lane (Cars), and rekindling passion (Ratatouille), to planning for future generations (WALL-E), and, finally, accepting death (Up). 

Up is more than just a picture of moving on from death. To me, it’s one of the greatest images of love that Hollywood has ever placed on the silver screen. Throughout his whole life, our character Carl is set on keeping his wife’s promises. He never goes back on his word – no matter what. This is a lesson many of us, myself included, need to be reminded of. Too often I’ll make a promise to Sarabeth and I won’t go through with it either because “I forgot,” or I just didn’t feel like it because it suddenly wasn’t convenient for me. Up convicts me as a Christian.

But as wonderful as a (true) love story this is, I would like to focus on another aspect of the film that is sometimes overlooked and is pertinent to this blog. In the movie, Carl has his life set to a certain standard, and his goals are fixed without room for interruption. But interruption knocks on his door (2,000 feet in the air) and presents itself. Throughout the story, Russell the boy slowly but surely wedges his  way into Carl’s heart. And slowly we begin to see the ideology of an adoption form. We learn that Russell is fatherless and Carl steps in as his surrogate. But the only way for him to do that is by letting go of what’s closest to him.

Often, if not always, that is what ministry of any kind requires. Make no mistake that adoption falls under the category of ministry. We all can attest that it’s not easy giving things up, because it seems that what is required of us in order to do our ministry effectively, is what’s most dear to us. It could be a call to part with money, a house, comfort, or even a sin that we’re harboring in our hearts. I believe this is the reason so many Christians refrain from partaking in true self-giving ministry (myself included). In a sense, ministry is not free – there is a cost to following Jesus, and a lot of times that cost is high to pay. But we must learn to see it as more of an investment, because God promises that He will repay us in Heaven for all we have given Him on earth.

But we’re so finite! We lack the eternal sense that there is a life beyond this, where what we do here will actually matter for an eternity. Even the best of us feels pain when we part with something we would rather keep. There’s a reason why it is emotional every time a balloon pops in the movie, because we feel Carl’s pain of letting go. When his house, which is a representation of his wife’s memory, creaks, and groans and falls apart, we are witnessing someone losing the most cherished (and only) possession he has. And sometimes we feel that what we hold closest to us is all we have.

But here’s the good news. God will always replace what is lost with something richer, and more appropriate for the season of life we’re in. When my good friend Nick died of heart problems when I was a sophomore in high school, God sent a new friend into my life to fill that role. He has been my best friend from that time until now, even though we haven’t lived in the same state for several years. Or maybe God will replace something you lost with His presence, or a subtle sense of joy, or peace, or fulfillment. Carl needed someone to share his life with, because he was wasting the last days of his life away in solitude. But in order for him to accept Russell into his life, he had to let go of his past, and be willing to move forward into the next season of his life.

If you’re holding onto something today that you know you need to part with, pray that God will give you the courage and strength to do away with it. Look around at what you know God has given you, and live accordingly.

 

Summer Books for Your Kids (Part 2)

I consider myself to be a treasure-hunter. Part of that means storing up treasures for my kids to inherit in the future. This is one of the reasons why I read children’s books on occasion. Buried somewhere under all the Harry Potter and Captain Underpants influenza is a Tuck Everlasting , or a Charlotte’s Web. Stories that carry on into people’s lives. Stories that stick with you forever in some way or another …are treasures. Here are some finds I have come across over the years that you can feel safe having your kids read, or that you can read to them, no matter how young they are.

Special Note: I have listed the following books on the right of this page. If you purchase any through those links you’d be supporting our sponsor and helping us reach our goal with adopting James.

Little Women

As a 28 year old male, I am comfortable enough in my masculinity to admit that this is one of my all-time favorite fictional books. I love it as a storyteller, a dreamer, a prayer, a hoper. It has the most wonderfully optimistic view of life – a great remedy for prone pessimists like myself. I’ve read it a couple of times (it’s so long… but not long enough), and it never ceases to bring me to tears. A tougher read for kids under 9, but a great bedtime story to build lasting memories, I’m sure.

 

 

 

 

Little Men

For people with boys running around the house. Here’s the alternative (and sequel) to Little Women. It’s about Jo’s married life and the orphan boys she and her husband take into their school. It’s full of sin, repentance, and great lessons for parents on why discipline is so absolutely necessary for the nurture and care of children and how it can bring about a redemption in their lives at a young age. Yes, I am saying that this is an excellent parenting book.

 

 

 

 

 

Around the World in Eighty Days

This is one of Jules Verne’s shorter books, so it can be read quickly, depending on your child’s interest in world travel and reading. I read this a few years ago, and was honestly on the edge of my seat for most of the book. It’s about a man who makes a rather large bet that he can travel around the globe in just 80 days or less, but he is often delayed, which causes the blood to rush a little faster, and the heart to pound a little quicker. Lots and lots of good fun.

 

 

 

 

 

No Wonder They Call Him Savior

No, this is not an intended children’s book, and I don’t recommend Max Lucado for mature Christians who are past the need for milk and honey but desire meat and heavier nutrition. But I read a lot of Max Lucado as a junior higher, this one being the first, and to this day, I can sense a lot of his imprints on my thinking process in terms of relating spiritual matters to everyday life. A great start for spiritually hungry children.

 

 

 

 

Bone

Back in the days of yore (the 90’s), my parents paid for my subscription to the Disney Adventures magazine (which I mistakenly called “Disney Afternoon” magazine because I never took the time to read any of the covers). But for a good year or so, they published snippets of the first of the Bone story, and I was hooked. Yes, it’s a graphic novel, but it’s family friendly …think Lord of the Rings meets Mickey Mouse. The books (there are 9 of them) have reemerged and are now finding their way into the hands of kids of the ipod generation. Just good old-fashioned fairytale fun. The only graphic novel I ever read, and if I had them in my possession, I’d read them again today.

Gloriously Redeemed

This is a guest post that one of my best friends and brother-in-law wrote for this blog. He and his wife, Sarabeth’s sister, moved to Southeast Asia nine months go to fulfill mission work for the Lord.
We have the honor and privilege to serve cross-culturally with friends that are all over the world.  This post is the convictions, testimonies and stories of two of our dearest friends serving in India. We hope and pray that this will allow you to experience world missions the way many people do throughout the world.  We pray this will be an eye-opening post and will change the way you view missions as a whole. Read, enjoy and please pray for our friends as well as people all over the world that are bringing the gospel to the unreached.  This is their experience…
Imagine living in a place that is vastly different than the place you call home. Imagine a land that looks like that one area of town that everyone stays away from, the dump. Try to imagine experiencing this mysterious place with all 5 senses. A land of 1.2 billion people with no concept of the green movement or environmental conservationism leads to lots of trash and pollution. Imagine smelling all of those things as you travel by public transportation or are walking home with your groceries. Imagine seeing people contribute to those smells by polluting it with their own human waste. With no concept of shame related to bathroom habits, many people take any and every opportunity to use the bathroom no matter where they are and no matter how bad it will be. Imagine hearing car and bus horns consistently as you try to walk down the street or ride in a car. With no concept of enforced traffic laws, the roads are filled with drivers that pull out into oncoming traffic and cut you off at any chance they get just to get to their destination a couple of seconds faster. Imagine feeling the exhaust from a bus pour out onto you as it pulls away from the stop light, leaving black soot on your skin and clothes. Imagine tasting both exhilarating and disgusting dishes that you know will have you struggling with the dreaded “Delhi Belly” as you succumb to cultural pressure to eat whatever is put in front of you while in a national’s home.

If you can begin to imagine these things, then you have only begun to skim the surface of what life in south India is like. Life in south India is extremely difficult. Cultural norms and social mores are completely different than anything I have experienced in America. What is considered normal and acceptable to Indian culture would be absolutely frowned upon in the culture which I grew up. These experiences don’t lend themselves to creating a warm and fuzzy feeling inside of me. Oftentimes, these feelings culminate in anger and ethnocentrism.

So, why did I come to India? My wife and I lived in a very nice apartment in a very nice neighborhood in Louisville, KY. We would go on walks with our dogs almost every day and enjoy cooking food from scratch. We would get in our car many nights and just go for a ride with our windows down. All of those things are gone now. The life we once lived is completely overshadowed with chaos, dirt, and everything else associated with India. Again, why did we come here?

Without sounding cliché, God brought us here. And the truth is, he brought us here more for the work he would do in us rather than through us. As Balaam very well knows, God can use anyone or anything to carry out His work. Gary Thomas asks the question, “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?” I have often thought of that question about missionary work: What if God brought me to India to make me more holy than to make me happy. The concept behind this question makes even the most devout Christian tremble. It is the one thought that prevents many believers in taking that “next step” to surrender to God’s will for his/her life. The idea of giving up temporal happiness for the opportunity to be made purer through the fires of various trials is something that shakes most believers at their core. However, there is so much glory that the Lord receives when the trials we face produce endurance (James 1:2-4). This has been a key verse that my wife and I have focused on to get us through the hard times.

Many of the presuppositions I had behind missions have been completely obliterated since coming to India. John Piper coined the phrase, “Missions exists because worship does not.” I used to understand missions as the necessity to see as many people saved as possible because that is the most loving thing to do as one who knows and is a messenger of the truth of the Gospel. While that is true, it is incomplete. God has to be the reason why we go. We cannot get the two greatest commandments out of order. An overwhelming love and devotion for God is the first and greatest commandment. If I came to the field first and foremost to save Indians, then I would have left after arriving in the Delhi airport and dealing with the unfriendly customs agent. But, God brought us here to conform us more into the image of Christ. He brought us here to rely on His grace every day. He brought us here to, by His grace, make worshippers of Him.

The road has been terribly hard, and I have contemplated giving up many times. However, it has not been in vain. God is doing a mighty work in me and my wife. He is stretching us in a way that we never thought we would be stretched. But, it is producing endurance. What once was anger and resentment towards God is now turning into a complete reliance on His daily grace. At the end of verse 4, James says that the endurance that is the product of these trials will make us “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” That is what we are shooting for. I would rather have that right now than the comforts of complacency.

I think our time in India will not be long-term. We believe that God has brought us here for a season. Our main focus is that we would not squander the season that He has given us. We want to leave this place emboldened in our faith and see the fruit of our labors from the seeds we sowed here in India. We want to see people come to repent and believe in the Gospel. We want to see churches planted. We also want to live and act a lot more like Jesus than when we came.

I’m not one of those that tries to guilt people into doing missions by giving statistics or using depressing stories. The only advice I would give is to live out the Gospel in your own life. Love God first. Love you neighbor second. All that will culminate in you being a great commission Christian. You can do that anywhere. But, if you think that God is commanding you to be a great commission Christian beyond the borders of America, then you cannot ignored that either. God wants to do a sanctifying work in us. For me, that involved moving me to the last place on earth that I would ever want to live. For you, it may be different. All I know is that I would rather be sitting on the shores of Nineveh knowing that I submitted to what the Lord was commanding me to do, then laying on the shore in the great fish’s vomit.

Wall-E …Much Deeper Than it Seems

I’ve always considered Pixar’s films to be deeper than most others, and for many years I made the bold claim that there had to be a Christian somewhere in that studio making right decisions. Then a couple of months ago I came across an article from Christianity Today with interviewer Mark Morning, and discovered that Andrew Stanton, one of the Pixar originals and director of Wall-E and Finding Nemo is a proclaimed born-again Christian, as it shows in his movies. Unfortunately the article has been deleted as it’s so old, but I managed to go around and collect some snippets of it from various sources. Enjoy, and please pray for those brothers and sisters in Hollywood making a difference.

There seem to be some biblical themes in this film. WALL•E is sort of like Adam, the only “guy” on earth, lonely, longing for a companion …

Andrew Stanton: Yes, and that’s certainly why I picked EVE as an appropriate title for the female robot. But “Adam” just didn’t have the underdog ring to it as the main character. WALL•E was a little bit more sad sack—and I could find an acronym that could work for that. But definitely it had that first man, first female theme. But I wasn’t trying to replace man in the bigger story. I just loved the poetic-ness that these two machines held more care for living and loving than humanity had anymore.

There’s also a bit of Noah’s Ark story here, with the humans on the space station, waiting for a chance to repopulate the earth—but having to wait till EVE comes back with plant life to indicate it’s okay.

Stanton: I wasn’t using the Noah’s Ark story as a guide, but through circumstances, I loved the parallels of EVE almost being like this dove, of going down for proof that it’s time to come back. It just worked in that allegory, so I ran with it.

This next snapshot is from: http://lookingcloser.org/2008/06/christianity-todays-mark-moring-interviews-andrew-stanton/

Apparently the idea for Wall-E was first born in 1994?

Stanton: At the time, it wasn’t a whole story. It was just the foundation of a great character‚ and it was literally born from the sentence, “What if humankind left earth and somebody left the last robot on, and it just kept doing the same futile thing forever?” And I thought that was the saddest, loneliest character I ever heard of in my life. [Co-writer] Pete Docter and I loved that idea, and thought we’d love to see a movie like that.

But since we hadn’t even finished Toy Story yet, our next sentence was, “Nobody would ever let us make a movie like that.” And we put it on the shelf and got caught up doing all these other things. But the idea stayed with me all these years, and when I was writing on Nemo, I started thinking about WALL-E again‚ and I couldn’t stop. That’s when I realized that I was attracted to the pure loneliness of this character, and the opposite of loneliness is love‚ so it should be a love story. From then on, suddenly the skies opened and I just couldn’t stop writing.

And I love this…

Moring: Some Christians want more “message movies,” and they want them to be movies where the gospel is preached loud and clear. But when movies get too driven by their agenda, you often end up with a crummy movie.

Stanton: Yeah, I’m right with you on that.

Moring: But guys like you and others at Pixar, and other Christians like Scott Derrickson and Ralph Winter, are bringing biblical themes into the movies without making them feel “preachy.” Where are you on all of that thinking?

Stanton: I agree with what you said. Just because you’re strong in your faith doesn’t mean that you suddenly have to be dumb and pander to a certain audience. When did that become a rule? I think you were given a brain to use it, and I think you were given talents to use it. And so the same intoxicating, seducing talents and cleverness and wisdom that you see in what may be considered “secular” entertainment, there’s no reason that those things should be held back for anything else, I like to think.

Here is another great article that says that Wall-E is not what it seems on the surface. It’s much, much deeper than an environmental movie.

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The Hope of Adoption

Adoption does not have to start at infancy. Here’s a video straight from the kids’ mouths.

Summer Books for Your Kids (Part 1)

I consider myself a treasure-hunter. Part of that means storing up treasures for my kids to inherit in the future. This is one of the reasons why I watch so many animated films and read children’s books on occasion. Buried somewhere under all the Harry Potter and Captain Underpants influenza is a Tuck Everlasting , or a Charlotte’s Web. Stories that last for more than the 192 pages printed within the covers. Stories that stick with you forever in some way or another …are treasures. Here are some finds I have come across over the years that you can feel safe having your kids read, or that you can read to them, no matter how young they are.

Special Note: I have listed the following books on the right of this page. If you purchase any through those links you’d be supporting our sponsor and helping us reach our goal with adopting James.

101 Dalmatians by Dodie Smith

Sarabeth and I read this a few years back and still consider it one of the best fictions we’ve come across. This book is a milestone of children’s literature. It is just as engaging for adults as it is for kids. Talking dogs handling real-life problems. It’s a great ride, even if you’ve seen the old movies. There are still plenty of surprises to keep you and your kids on the edge of your seat.

 

 

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

I’ve never had so much fun giving my brain a workout. This is a highly imaginative book for kids who might be turned off by the girl heroine in Alice in Wonderland. If memory serves correctly, it was the first full-length novel I ever read, and I liked it so much I returned to it as an adult, and had just as much fun. And yes, to those of you wondering, this is the book they rave about in the show Parks and Recreation.

 

 

Peter and the Starcatchers trilogy by Ridley Pearson and Dave Barry

Ever wonder how Peter Pan became Peter Pan? Find out in this adventure book loaded with short chapters and lots of pictures. This would make a good movie. There are four in the series, but I’d say the first and second are the two worth reading. And no, the author is not related to J.M. Barrie.

 

 

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

Talk about pure gold. While your boys are immersed in Neverland adventures, pull out this classic treasure for your girls. Even as an adult I find these books to be among some of the greatest children’s literature of our day. It’s yet another book about an orphan who is reluctantly taken in by the Cuthberts, and how she changes their lives and the world of Avonlea for the better.

 

Check back next week for more books you and your kids will enjoy. Tomorrow: Are your eyes fixed on Heaven?