Catch This Book as Soon as You Can

Catch-Me-If-You-CanOne of my favorite movies of all time is Catch Me If You CanIt doesn’t really fit in a genre – it’s action-packed, funny, emotional, intense… the genre I put it in is called Fun. Just plain old fun.

And… it was a book first, written by our very own Frank Abagnale, Jr. Or Frank Connors, or Frank Williams, or Robert Conrad, or Robert Monjo. Take your pick, it’s all the same crook-turned-FBI specialist.

And though the book is vastly different than the movie, I like them both just the same.

I recently read the book for the second time and was just as captivated and held to the edge of my seat as before. And honestly, the whole thing is hard to believe.

One of the major differences from the movie is that there is no Carl Hanratty hot on Abagnale’s trail – how could there be? It’s an autobiography. But even without him, the book is just as fun, because you know the FBI is never really that far behind.

Pick up the book as soon as you can. It reads as fast as the main character runs. I’ll be rereading it again and again down the line.

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Birthday Blog

It’s my birthday and I must say that after last year’s birthday blog post, things have taken a positive turn in my life.
Carl-Fredricksen
I’ve had a year to accept the fact that I’m in my 30’s, I get heartburn more often, more cricks and cracks in my joints, and my body is more apt to display the calorie count of the last two meals I’ve had (and it is resilient at holding onto the last 18).
I’m not a bestselling author yet. However, I’m proud to announce that my second book comes out on Kindle Select tomorrow (it’s a tear-jerker and a perfect read to usher in the holidays)!
But about those positive turns in my life: We have a kid now, a baby girl who’s growing faster and faster each day. If you don’t know our story, Sarabeth and I had been waiting for a child for five years and we’re grateful to finally have our foster daughter in our lives.
Now we are in the process of trying to adopt her as our own so that she can be a Toy forever. Just the thought of that makes my eyes water and my heart pound like crazy in my chest. Sarabeth and I hold out for that day with all our might.
Along with aging however, comes an increasing tendency to be cranky and cantankerous in ways I never expected. For instance, I’m a much crappier father than I thought I’d be. I kind of turn into a jerk if my little girl starts crying when I’m busy working or eating or sleeping or – well, any time, really.

Screen Shot 2011-10-20 at 12.41.59 PMI don’t shake her or anything like that. And I don’t yell or scream at her. But I take on this tone that’s very… fatherish. (Not fatherly – there’s a big difference.) But she starts crying in the middle of Parenthood and I’m like, “Baby A.” – I don’t really call her that, that’s just what I call her on this blog until we reveal her name after she’s adopted. But I’m like, “Baby A. Stop. You don’t need to be crying right now. Wait eight more minutes when the show is over then Mom will come and take care of you while I disappear to the bathroom with a book until I can’t hear you anymore.” (Old age – seriously – it’s a killer.)
But then, there’s those moments when I look at her and I remember how small she used to be at just 6 pounds. And I recall how, less than a year ago, my heart would crumble by the shrieking cries in the night caused by her illness. Movies make me cry, but real-life stuff doesn’t really (something Sarabeth is often concerned about). But my little girl’s painful cries brought me to tears a handful of times.
It’s good to reflect on your life on your birthday. For me, I wouldn’t really have much of a life if it weren’t for my wife and 10801921_10205375378008123_2425218875246496621_ndaughter. In fact, I’d just be a cranky, cantankerous 31 year old with no one to remind me stop working for a day, or take a few minutes to play, or laugh, or just simply stop the rat-race for a moment and stop living in the future in my multi-million-dollar beach house surrounded by notable awards and honors for my bestselling books (not to mention the award-winning movies that are based off of them).
I need to stop and be content with my lot in life with my loft and my wife and my baby and my dogs and my books (by other authors), and just be. And maybe watch what I eat… after my birthday leftovers are gone… or sometime after Christmas.
And if you feel inclined to wish me a happy birthday in a meaningful way and help me achieve my goal of becoming a bestselling author, please feel free to purchase my book I Am the Lion on your Kindle device. I really would like that beach house for my wife.

Baby A. and Up

carl and ellieIn The Art of Up, Tim Hauser makes this thought-provoking observation:

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). 

In the movie Up, Carl has his life set to a certain standard, and his goals are fixed without much 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 father. But the only way for him to do that is by letting go of what’s closest to him.

I’m not like Carl in the sense that I always keep my word (or will die trying), but I do have many of his negative qualities. I’m stubborn and like to have things go my way. But with the arrival of our foster daughter a few months ago, I’ve had to rearrange my comfortable lifestyle a bit.

But I’m not the only one; anyone who’s a parent has had to do this. Parents learn how to watch less TV, get less sleep, and drop everything to assist the needs of the afflicted (or hungry).

And you know, giving all that up is worth it to see my little girl smile with satisfaction or joy just to see me.

I love stories like Up, because it reminds us what we’re living for. Not comfy chairs or waterfalls or prunes, but relationships, and love, and extending our family circle.

We’re so thankful for our rolling, laughing, giggling little girl. Her parents have been MIA these past several months so it looks like transitioning into the official adoption phase is inevitable and very near at hand.

Obviously Sarabeth and I are thrilled and can’t imagine a single a day without Baby A. in our lives. So yeah, she’s worth less sleep and dirty diapers. To us, she’s worth everything in the whole world.

True Love at the Movies

There are many movies that claim to be romantic comedies – and that’s just what they are – romantic jokes. So on this Valentine’s Day, I want to pay tribute to those few movies that actually speak about true love.

Never mind the endless list of movies where the couple met yesterday and are forced into some silly circumstance outside their comfort zones and now 90 minutes later they’re sharing that “long-awaited” kiss as the sun sets behind them. (Thank you, Frozen, for addressing this.)

Here is a list of movies (and shows) that feature a more old-fashioned type of love. A love that is selfless and undying. A love that overcomes all odds to keep on living.

a beautiful mind

A Beautiful Mind

To some, this may just be a movie about a brilliant man with a psychological disorder. To others, it’s a really fascinating biography. Either way, it’s a movie not to be missed by anyone for any reason. But when I watch this movie, I see a love story at its finest. Watch it from the wife’s point of view. By the world’s standards, she had every reason to leave him, and few would have blamed her. But for a woman to choose to stay married to a man as impulsive and potentially dangerous as John Nash, simply out of love – that speaks volumes to me that Ron Howard and the makers of this film, not to mention the real life couple this movie portrays, really understand what true love can be.

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Cinderella Man

Another Russell Crow and Ron Howard team effort. James Braddock, a real-life boxer who was forced to survive the Great Depression while protecting and providing for his wife and three kids, is a role model for every man everywhere. The way he lets his kids have the last bite of dinner. The way he gets himself beat bloody to provide extra change to pay the electric bill. The way he loves his wife through it all, through the absolute worst of times in the twentieth century. James Braddock is an incredible role model for us all. His message is that nothing – not poverty, brokenness, sickness – should ever come between you and the family you vowed to protect through sickness and in health.

Life is Beautiful

Life is Beautiful

This classic foreign film about the gradual oppression of the Jews during the rise of Hitler will make you laugh (no joke) and cry at the same time. This film really does show that life really can be beautiful even in the midst of pure evil and ugliness all around. And the Beatles (for once) were right – that sometimes, all you need is love. The first part is classic Abbot-and-Costello-type comedy and the second half is pure tragedy. But through it all, it’s love that keeps this family alive and hopeful during one of the worst eras in our modern history.

my life

My Life

This is the fourth saddest movie in the world (just behind Toy Story 3 and My Dog Skip, and The Cure). Michael Keaton stars as a terminal cancer patient who only has a short amount of time to live. The catcher is that his wife is pregnant and, according to the doctors, he won’t live to see his son be born. His wife’s dedication and love for him shouts volumes through this film as a call out to all wives to be that help-mate you were called to be when you stood under that alter with your groom. It’s a worthy movie to watch to make you feel closer to your loved ones.

Man in Box

The Man in the Box

I’m going to cheat here, for a moment. This isn’t a movie (yet). However, the roles are reversed from My Life. In this fantasy/adventure book, the wife has cancer. And it takes the husband nearly until the end of the book to rediscover his love for her. I would highly recommend adding it to your Amazon wish list or Good Reads to-read list, as the author is in the process of revising it, tweaking it, adding to it, in hopes of boosting his book’s 4.3 Amazon rating to a perfect 5. (Oh, and you really ought to Like it on Facebook for a chance to win a free autographed copy.)

jim-and-pam

The Office

In the Toy house, this is the pinnacle of the greatest shows ever made. (We’re constantly watching it in cycles because I can only stand so much of HGTV.) But Jim and Pam have one of those relationships that you just can’t help but root for from the very beginning. They’re the kind of couple that just… work – no pun intended. You just don’t get much better romantic character connections than this.

shrek-goes-fourth

Shrek the Fourth

Wha-?? Am I really recommending a Dreamworks movie? Well, after the absolute train wreck of the third installment of the Shrek franchise, I don’t know why or how I bothered to watch this at all. The only explanation is that Sarabeth must have talked me into it, and since I love her (theme of today’s post), I gave in. And though it’s not as good as the second Shrek, this fourth installment actually surprised me in an unexpected way. The first good thing the filmmakers did was exterminate any potential tributes to its predecessor (Shrek 3) that they could. In a way, they started fresh, picking right up from the second movie and gave it a better conclusion by reaffirming Shrek and Fiona’s everlasting love for one another. It’s the story most men at some point wish to find themselves in – a chance to return to bachelorhood. Shrek the Fourth is a cautionary tale about why it’s best to appreciate what you have sitting around your dinner table.

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Up

And how could I overlook one of the most remarkably romantic couples to hit the big screen since…. well, ever? In ten minutes the filmmakers meticulously stitch together a romantic life worth living as Carl and Ellie fall in love, get married, plan a family, and grow old together through the mundane occurrences of everyday life – yet, they somehow make every day an adventure. Even in her passing, Carl can’t seem to let her go. If only everyone can find this kind of romance, as I did with Sarabeth.

Have a safe and happy Valentine’s Day, everyone, and feel free to list your favorite true-love movies.

Oh, and keep praying for us. We’re hoping to bring Baby A. home from the hospital today… 🙂

Last Minute Pep Talk to Writers

I have never met a person who said, “I don’t want to write a book before I die.” Truthfully, I’m sure some people feel that way – but I haven’t met them. Most people harbor a glistening imagination deep in the wellspring of their soul that they are just too afraid to expose. Today, on the eve of Halloween, the brink of NaNo, and on the cusp of the most imaginative and magical season of the year, I would like to dedicate our minds and attention to our inner child… or, our locked-up imaginations.

“Fun is closely related to Joy,” says C.S. Lewis, “-a sort of emotional froth arising from the play instinct … it promotes charity, courage, contentment…” (And I would like to take it one step further for this 21st century audience and add that Fun creates jobs.)

In light of this NaNo contest starting up in just two days, I want to encourage those of you who plan on participating to not be afraid to dive deep into your imagination, as silly as it may seem. When you think your imagination is so far away from mainstream entertainment think of J.M. Barrie who dared to have pirates and Indians coexist on the same star-inhabited island. Think like him, and allow yourself to become inspired by the things that surround you. (And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, cancel your plans for this evening and rent Finding Neverland.)

Think of the guys at Pixar who dared to create a “children’s” movie about a senior citizen and a flying house. Be reassured by the words of Pete Docter, the co-writer and co-director of Up: “There were times when we thought to ourselves, ‘An old man in a floating house? With a Wilderness Explorer and a talking dog? What are we thinking? Who’s going to connect with this?'”

When you start to panic about writing your story, think: A secret world found in a wardrobe… A magical chocolate factory… A cowardly lion and a brainless scarecrow… a man who climbs inside a box (see what I did there?)… these are all really weird concepts. But they work! And yours can too!

As you write, don’t worry about whether people will like it or not. Write because it’s something you want to read. Because, truthfully, you’re not that different from other people. You like the same stories everyone else likes. So, who’s to say your own stories won’t be received well by others?

[Image Credit]

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.