I know what you're thinking
You're thinking it's easy to say your life is awesome when you're on vacation in a cool car meeting girls in the middle of the desert right?
Easy when your friend invites you to check out the South of France right?
You're thinking it's easy to say life is awesome when you're care taking a lake house in Tennessee.
Or when you're filming a movie about a bmx bicycle company you had when you were 19 and that you might get to start again right?
I used to have a tree picked out.
We can be honest here right? I've had a very close friend take his own life, and with Robin Williams and other recent notable personalities succumbing to the pressure recently it's clear we need to talk about this.
I had a tree. Yes a tree with a large branch just slightly taller than me, but easy enough to climb up and prepare. You get the point. And speaking of points this was the low point. Not just any low point, but THE low point. The point where you just can't see any way out. Didn't I think of my family? My friends? Of not making a rash decision with no reversal? Of course I did I'm still here aren't I? But trust me when I say knowing the reasons why it's not a good choice doesn't change the circumstances that got you that low. Sometimes life is just gonna suck for a while.
“I've lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” - Mark Twain
I know how life can swing. Prosperity and hunger. Opportunity and failure. I've lived in an apartment with no furniture only a mattress in the living room. I've eaten one meal some days. Or none. I've slept in my car and on the dirt. I've been lower than I thought I'd ever be and then lower. I missed a year of college because the financial aid office misspelled my last name, so I know what it feels like to be the dude pushing the rock up the hill again and again. I know how it feels when people let you down, or worse when they disappear. It's not an easy life sometimes this thing we're dealt. And many times we do it to ourselves.
Attitude is everything
I used to believe that. Just like Maverick.
Before you dismiss me because of a contrarian sounding statement let me clarify. I didn't say attitude wasn't important. Like "just have a good attitude and we'll get to your cousins house after the tow truck arrives." I also understand there's a big difference between having a type of attitude and having an attitude. Winston Churchill's famous "attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference" is certainly true and I'm sure there were cold wet mornings where attitude was.. yeah ok maybe everything. But if Mav here would've just had an attitude adjustment earlier on in this testosterone fueled popcorn classic would it have been enough to save Goose?
I used to say yes but now I'm not so sure.
Why? Because I've had a good attitude much of my life. Here's how much difference it made:
I heard Pastor Chamron's story at a church in East Oakland around 2014 - a story he'd lived decades before. I'll warn you now if you're determined to hang on to your inner narrative that God either doesn't take care of you, can't take care of you, or you don't like how he chooses to take care of you you might not like the pastor's story.
Cambodia 1975-1979. The Killing Fields are well known. They've been made into a movie and countless books and articles. The ethnic cleansing carried out by the Khmer Rouge would be categorized by everyone except a psychopath as pure nightmare. Chamron Phal should know.
He was there.
This is not Pastor Chamron, this is from the 1984 film The Killing Fields, but it might as well have been. Fortunately Chamron Phal's story just last week was accepted by a publisher so it will be written down and chronicled for all.
The short of it is that early on during the cleansing by the Khmer Rouge, Chamron was arrested, wrongfully accused of stealing grain, and then beaten and thrown into a flooded river left for dead. When he survived and went into hiding he had only the clothes on his bruised back, a spoon to eat with, and a rice sack.
That needs to sink in. A rice. sack.
The rice sack was his house.
Do you like your house? Do you hate your house? Do you dream of a bigger house? Do you let the repairs and maintenance needs of your house affect your perspective that you HAVE a house?
This was his house.
Let it sink in.
Because it was his bed too.
How long did you walk around the maze of IKEA choosing the perfect bed? The perfect match to the "look" you want to create, the person you feel you are becoming? "I'm not sure that bed says what I want to say about myself.."
Look there's nothing wrong with choosing a nice bed, a nice house, but oh how we can begin to assume that our comfort is guaranteed. Or worse, that it's our right.
But life isn't a right or a promise. The only promise is that we GET to go through it. Like if you deal with traffic and sky high prices you GET to experience New York. If you go through childbirth and screaming and gripping and messiness you GET to hold your baby and hear him or her breathe and sigh and yes cry. But it's not a right, it's a gift.
Did you just say suffering is a gift? WTF??!!
No I said life was a gift. Suffering happens and sometimes it doesn't. Suffering and pain and frustration and sadness and joy and happiness and love and awe and waterfalls and good coffee and clean sheets and stories around a campfire they all go together into a big pot and how engaged we are is usually an indicator of the level of heat turned up to simmer our experience.
So what if I just made that analogy up it sounds pretty good.
As I said Pastor Chamron's story finally got picked up by a publisher so I hope it's ok to share the end because it's a doozy. 30 years after his capture-torture-wrongful imprisonment and left-for-dead situation, Pastor Chamron returned to Cambodia, tracked down the guard who tortured him and _________________?
I'm not going to sound superior because I can't. I don't know that I could do that. I know there's a God greater than me and greater than Pastor Chamron that gave him the strength to do that.
I believe that 100% because that's how I forgave my dad too.
When Pastor Chamron tells his story it's not with bitterness at the unfortunate events he went through, or carrying the victim banner, it's with a gratitude for life. A life that he still has. Living in Oakland and pastoring a church might as well be light years from the those days and nights of horror in the late 1970's and yet here he is. He gets to live. And he learned grace and forgiveness firsthand. His life is... awesome.
Oh and the guard? No he didn't accept Christ. He acknowledged the Pastor's forgiveness but said he just couldn't change his life's religion. People have free will. Not every journey of faith ends like a Kirk Cameron movie.
Let's wrap up - A + P = B
Why isn't a good attitude enough? Well it almost is. Maverick had one attitude adjustment after another before really getting his world rocked when his best bud dies, but where did that get him? Unable to engage.
Pastor Chamron might have had a good attitude at times and a bad one too, but I'm thinking there's a love child here that happens when attitude meets perspective and begets something greater.
Attitude without perspective is like a powerful engine in a car with no wheels. Shiny parts, loud noise, tons of horsepower. Nowhere to go. But a good attitude like Pastor Chamron had, and the right perspective like Maverick gained, just might begin to pile up. To the point where you believe.
You still don't believe me about your life being awesome? It's ok I've been through this before.
Let's break it down.
The trip around the country.
The trip around the country was taken because I literally had nowhere else to live. No other job to try to get. No more friends to stay with and "see how it works out," no more energy left to keep over-analyzing my missteps or lack of direction following my father's death. it was a trip taken with a purpose, despite how "carefree" it might look to the outsider, it was a deliberate attempt to cleanse my brain and shake loose the rust so I could remember how to be myself and trust my instincts. Like I did when I bought the car in the first place. Like I did when I started shooting a movie. Like I did the last time I had a girlfriend.
My car may look cool on the surface, and it is. But it didn't get that way by accident. There's sweat and blood and dents beneath the surface that you'd never know about. A 50 year old car doesn't travel 10,000 miles around the country in 100 degree desert heat and biblical flooding in the south and freezing temps in the northern plains because it looks cool on Instagram. It took a lot of work to make sure it ran hard and hassle-free and oh btw look at that fender now!
The trip to the south of France was a great trip, don't get me wrong, and when friends say they're moving there for a temporary job my advice is jump on a plane and go but do you know what happened right before I left? I gave my two weeks.
The job I had served a purpose and I can't be ungrateful but I was a square peg in a round hole and it was a horrible fit. I planned my exit deliberately, bought a new car because I knew I'd be back on the road, and scanned for cheap tickets to France because life only happens once. No ragrets.
My challenge to you? Believe. BELIEVE
If you're still thinking that your life isn't awesome I will warrant a guess that it's got a great deal to do with your own perception inside your head, your perspective of your life vs. others' lives - comparisons and doubts about status and ability and worth. But what if you believed what your parents thought about you when you were little? The joy you brought them even if circumstances were tough? If you believed what your close friends know about your character and appreciate about your friendship? What God has said your life is worth? What if you lived like you really believed? Maybe, just maybe... it will start to sink in.
It's sinking in for me.