Look Beyond the Chocolate

Wonka Bar

One of my all-time favorite movies teaches one of the greatest lessons to be learned in this life. Released on the 30th of June 1971, this American musical, fantasy film is a timeless classic. Actually, in great abundance we discover many tasty, teachable moments, but one is particularly golden. If I mention that the movie was based on a story by Roald Dahl and starred Gene Wilder, Jack Albertson, and Peter Ostrum, I’m certain that you can guess its name. Ah, of course, it’s in your personal collection as well: “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”!

As you know this story is choc-full of commentary regarding the follies of the “natural man”.  The cleverly delivered messages are as applicable to us today as when it was originally made. The colorful cast of characters convey the preponderance of slothfulness, greed, the desire for instant gratification, a sense of entitlement, pure selfishness, rudeness in discourse, and outright disobedience. Surely, these are nothing new to the human experience. Wonka’s magical candy-land is the ideal battlefield to test anyone’s ability to wage the ongoing war against temptation. Each of us needs to discover the path to fight off our own demons. I bet you’re thinking about the Oompa Loompas! For sure, their distinctive look, creative songs, and hilariously choreographed moves are memorable! But none of the warning, instruction, or correction gleaned from their fun-filled, lovable lyrics is central to my theme on this particular day.

I am asking you to fast-forward to the end of this delicious joy-ride. Let’s bypass the luscious lollipops, mouthwatering mounds of marshmallows, the raging river of real chocolate, the eggdicator, and anything remotely scrumdiddlyumptious. I don’t want you to focus on the weaknesses of Augustus Gloop, Veruca Salt, Mike Teevee, Violet Beauregarde, or even Grandpa Joe. Don’t think for a minute that you are completely immune from the obvious flaws in each of their characters. To do so would be pure imagination! Despite the extreme popularity of the movie, I believe that it is quite possible that many overlook a truly powerful message contained in one of the closing scenes. In fact, I would go so far as to repeat my opening statement. It is the preeminent lesson to be taken away from this production, and it has real life applications. It is the simple fact that you must look beyond the chocolate! It is the grand truth that your worth is infinitely more than just the chocolate.

Let me reset the stage for you so that you can more fully understand. Grandpa Joe and Charlie enter Mr. Wonka’s office. Wonka is sitting at his desk dutifully engaged in nothing in particular. You remember, “there’s so much time and so little to do!” Wonka was waiting and hoping for his vision to unfold. Wonka is not thinking about chocolate. His plan, after all, has really little to do with chocolate alone. But that doesn’t stop Grandpa Joe’s mind from being  firmly fixated upon that concept as tightly as the wrapping around a Wonka Bar. Completely engaged as such, he wishes to know when his grandson is going to receive his life-changing reward–the chocolate. He mistakenly believes the notion that a prize is due without truthfulness, without effort, without transformation, or without a change of heart. Charlie Bucket’s grandpa expresses his outrage at Wonka’s apparent heartlessness and sense of fairness. He calls Wonka an inhuman monster. Grandpa Joe vows to enact revenge upon Mr. Wonka for destroying a boy’s dreams. He cannot fathom why Charlie will not be the recipient of a lifetime supply of Willy Wonka’s chocolate creations. It is pretty straightforward, though, as the Candy Man lividly points out just prior to Grandpa Joe’s outburst: “Under section 37 B of the contract signed by him, (Charlie), it states quite clearly that all offers shall become null and void if , and you can read it for yourself in this photostatic copy, I, the undersigned, shall forefit all rights, privileges, and licenses herein contained, etc., etc., ….it’s all there, black and white, clear as crystal. You stole Fizzy Lifting Drinks. You bumped into the ceiling, which now has to be washed and sterilized. So, you get nothing! You lose! Good day, sir! ”

 But wait, in a moment that I hope we all reenact at some point in our lives, Charlie does not succumb to his Grandpa Joe’s misplaced anger! Charlie comes to a realization that he has let Mr. Wonka down. The look on his face is of pure sorrow and remorse. He is prepared to accept the consequences of his actions. He makes restitution by returning the Ever-Lasting Gobstopper. “So shines a good deed in a weary world, “ is softly spoken by the magnanimous Candy Man. Then, Mr. Wonka reveals his true intentions. “Charlie, my boy, you did it! Forgive me for putting you through this. I had to test you, Charlie, and you passed the test.” “The Master said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things; enter thou into the joy of the Lord.”–Matthew 25:21  He declares Charlie as the winner. Yet, there’s something more to it, isn’t there? Charlie, unaware of what awaits him, is still simply focused on the chocolate. He asks, “The chocolate”? Wonka, now beaming with joy beyond measure, appears to roll his eyes. “Yes, the chocolate,” he responds. “The grand and glorious jackpot! But, that is only the beginning!”

Perhaps, we, like Charlie, may not recognize our full potential. That is why we cannot see beyond the chocolate. An old proverb declares: “Be Humble, for you are made of earth. Be Noble, for you are made of stars.” Why do we settle for less than we deserve? Why can’t we see our true potential? Why are we afraid of change? It is crucial to know that “the task ahead of you is never as great as the power behind you.”--Brad Wilcox  Simply put, you will have help! To move beyond our “chocolate stage” though, we must become as sincerely repentant as Charlie. Any trial or adversity which prevents us from making progress must be met head on. To move forward, we must first accept responsibility for our current state. If you’ve gained back all the weight you had lost, please believe that all is not lost! However, you must lose the “I want it now” attitude of Veruca Salt. Reaching your worthy goal in the past took time. Recall, that you felt that it was worth the effort. More importantly, remember that you believed you were worthy of obtaining something important. For a while, you saw beyond the chocolate! You knew that your endeavor was surely more than just about the weight. Even now, what awaits you at the journey’s end is far greater than you can imagine.  You can still choose to do what is right and never, ever give up. Adherence to the commandments of exercise and healthy eating is your pathway to success. Charlie Bucket had no idea that he was to be Willy Wonka’s heir. My hope is that we recognize that our destiny is to be heirs as well. “And he that receiveth me receiveth my Father; and he that receiveth my Father receiveth my Father’s kingdom; therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto him.” Thus said the Master Chocolatier! “The Lord doesn’t put us through this test just to give us a grade; He does it because the process will change us.”–Henry B. Eyring  That knowledge, my friends, is the great lesson. Now, you may have a bite of chocolate!

photo credit: Crafting with Cat Hair Felt Wonka bar iPod cozy via photopin (license)

Spring Will Come

Spring will comeAs we rapidly approach another changing of the seasons, I am once again reminded of just how inevitable change, itself, is in our lives. Oh, we may not like it. In fact, some have an outright disdain for its harsh realities. Despite the unpleasant nature of what may be ushered in with each turning of the pages of the calendar of our life, no amount of wishful thinking, complaining, sheer desire, use of the “force”, or any means of defiance can prevent its arrival.

“Winter is the bane of my existence”, I vividly recall one of my students boldly stating. Indeed, deeply rooted within many, may exist perfectly valid explanations for such reasoning. Seasonal Affective Disorder can be a mountain-sized problem which carries people to the summit of sadness. At the peak of despair, it then promptly, and without concern for safety or compassion for their suffering, drops them down the other side. This plummet into depression may seem to last forever. However, this free-fall does not have to result in a catastrophic splatter at the base.

How do I know that this too shall pass? How do I know that there is a permanent parachute attached to your back ensuring a safe landing? How do I know that there is hope and happiness ahead? Well, for one, through the very existence of our ever trustworthy friend who I’ve already alluded to, Change, we can be sure that we will not be stuck in time or abandoned in some desolate place for all eternity.

I also know that all such challenges which we must endure during any season of life are for our benefit, for the Lord, Himself, has declared it. “And if thou shouldest be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murders, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. “ Our literal, living, loving Savior continues with this encouragement and these promises. “Therefore, hold on thy way. Thy days are known, and thy years shall not be numbered less; therefore, fear not what man can do, (I will add, Mother Nature), for God shall be with you forever and ever.”

Being a seasoned golf instructor and addict, along with my fitness training duties, I am personally acquainted with the let-down that always comes at the end of Autumn. I fully understand what the onset of Winter can do to me. I will, once again, miss the color green terribly. I will, as in every year in Northeast Ohio, long for the smell of freshly mowed grass and for the sight of beautiful blossoming buds. “I survived because the fire inside me burned brighter than the fire around me.”–Joshua Graham The seeming doom and gloom of this season will not linger longer if we keep our eyes fixed on what glorious blessings are shortly to come. “Each of us will have our own Winters–those times when the universe itself seems shattered and the shards of our world lie littered about us in pieces. We will all experience those broken times when it seems we can never be put together again.–Joseph B. Wirthlin But, I testify to you that Spring will come! No matter our desperation, no matter our grief, Spring will come!

“We generate fears while we sit. We overcome them by action. Fear is nature’s way of warning us to get busy.”–Dr,. Henry Link In that spirit, I would counsel all who deal with S.A.D. to some degree or another to keep themselves busy. Through your devastating and almost all-consuming depression, you can find hope. If you can look beyond your own troubles, you will always see a Light. This Light gives everlasting life to all who come unto Him, who is the Light and Life of the world. As we serve others, as He did, in the midst of our personal struggles, we will find a sweet release from our troubles. I have found this to be the key to unlocking the massive door of darkness, doubt and discouragement. Of course, I am going to encourage you to exercise, eat healthy, and attempt to get sufficient restful sleep. These time-tested ingredients are necessarily unchanging in a world around us that is ever in a state of flux. Do something for someone today, and I promise you that you will begin to feel better immediately. Hey, Spring is only 108 days 10 hours 47 minutes and 30 seconds away as I finish writing this! Hooray! We can make it! We must! “If we are to fill the world with light, we must first face any tattered remnant of darkness that remains in our own souls.”–Jeffrey R. Holland

photo credit: kurt.stocker Hot love via photopin (license)

You Are Never Alone

walking-mountain-path

Take a deep breathe, check your pulse, hit yourself over the head (Ouch!)…We have just determined that you are still alive. Maybe all is not well with you, but there are still plenty of reasons to rejoice in this simple truth. I’ll offer you just one. Perhaps, it is the single most important thing you need to hear right now. Despite how you may be feeling, you are never alone.

“When you walk through the storm, hold your head up high, and don’t be afraid of the dark. At the end of the storm is a golden sky and the sweet silver song of the lark. Walk on through the wind. Walk on through the rain, though your dreams be tossed and blown. Walk on, walk on with hope in your heart and you’ll never walk alone. You’ll never walk alone.”–from Carousel, written by Rodgers and Hammerstein

Whenever we are inclined to feel burdened down with the blows of life, let us remember that others have passed the same way, have endured, and then have overcome. History is replete with the experiences of those who have struggled and yet who have remained steadfast and of good cheer. The reason? They have made the gospel of Jesus Christ the center of their lives. This is what will pull us through whatever comes our way. We will still experience difficult challenges, but we will be able to face them, to meet them head-on, and to emerge victorious. From the bed of pain, from the pillow wet with tears, we are lifted heavenward by that divine assurance and precious promise: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee. Such comfort is priceless.–Thomas S. Monson

So, take courage, and walk on. Yes, go for a walk. As difficult as it might be to get yourself outside, I believe in you. If the obstacles seem too daunting to surmount, I promise you that if you but give whatever particle of effort you can muster, that effort will be met, matched, and surpassed by He who has vowed not to leave thee alone. “God did not remove the Red Sea. He opened it. He will help you find a way through your problems as well.”–Brad Wilcox

You seek peace from the never-ending agony of your mental illness. It has manifested itself physically, and you are further depressed with your body. You are in search of some remedy for both. Going to work is tough enough, I understand. Yes, I also get that you are not up to going out in public to workout. “When things get tough, find a reason to go on instead of a reason to quit. Both are easy to find, but the one you chose will change your life.”–unknown Therefore, walking is the ideal approach. Better still, how about venturing out early in the morning or late at night! These times of the day offer you just what you need. The absence of noise, due to the lack of cars and people on the streets, is perfectly conducive for a peaceful stroll around the neighborhood. Engage in some serious soul-searching while you are involved in some wonderful exercise. The calm and serene atmosphere can help you to recharge your batteries.

“Sometimes, carrying on, just simply carrying on, is the most superhuman achievement.”–Albert Camus Remember, dear friends, that you are never alone. “We see what we are looking for: burdens or blessings, weeds or flowers, and sometimes we need help from the ONE who sees all things as they really are.”–Ardeth G. Kapp “He can make us whole no matter what is broken in us.”–Paul V. Johnson

photo credit: Strevo via photopin (license)

SMILE

smile

It is a myth that one uses more facial muscles when smiling as compared to frowning. On average, about the same number of muscles are engaged in either act. If you smile more often, these ten to twelve muscles can become stronger. Who doesn’t want a stronger face?

But, those who struggle with depression or any form of mental health issue often find it difficult to smile. This doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t like to be beaming more frequently. Their affliction does not define them. Nevertheless, at times the challenges associated with their particular illness can control them. It is often manifested in an outward appearance which is misconstrued by others. I’m not talking about someone who is just feeling the “blues” because she didn’t get a raise at work, or another who is “down in the dumps” because his favorite sport’s team just lost a pivotal game. Everyone experiences a bout of depression now and then as discouragement and disappointments are realities of life. No one is completely immune from these undesirable experiences due to the uncertainty inherent in mortality. It is easier to turn a frown upside down when your life is not a perpetual roller coaster. For these, that car which they ride along in, and perhaps at times desperately cling to, is completely unpredictable. One moment it is racing at the speed of light, and then suddenly, often without warning, it morphs into sloth mode. The peaks and valleys on this ride are far from amusing. No, thrill seekers would certainly not desire to hop aboard this coaster. Fun would not be in its description. Excitement, laughter, and grinning are not typically companions accompanying these riders.

So, what is to be done? The goal, if possible, is to attempt to stay a step or two ahead of the problem. Does that mean that one has to be able to tell the future in able to better deal with the present? Of course, no one can predict what awaits at the top of that next hill or at the bottom of that valley. Could a smile be waiting around the next corner? I cannot say. But, what I know is that over the course of time learning and applying various coping mechanisms can help to stave off the damaging effects of a major episode. However, it is never as simple as it sounds. “Simply follow steps A, B, and C and everything will be just fine.” Doesn’t that prescription for success just make you want to smile from ear to ear?

Certain steps or specific actions may need to be modified, completely scrapped and replaced with another, or temporarily adjusted for a season. Whatever the particulars, change in and of itself is downright scary. Altering routines will most certainly cause a jump in anxiety. Let’s jump to some good news, shall we? For quite a few years now, doctors and psychologists alike have been recommending an increased dosage of daily physical activity to combat the hardships of major depressive disorders. The upside is that regular exercise can, in fact, do wonders to improve one’s mental outlook. There is more than ample evidence to suggest that those who endure the pain of an illness sometimes unseen by others will benefit tremendously if they can just start moving. Now, isn’t that news worth smiling about?

“Smile though your heart is aching
Smile when your heart is breaking
When there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You’ll see the sun come shining through for you
Light up your face with gladness
Hide every trace of sadness
Although a tear may be ever so near
That’s the time you must keep on trying
Smile, what’s the use of crying?
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile
If you just smile
That’s the time you must keep on trying
Smile, what’s the use of crying?
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile
If you just smile”

–John Turner/Jeffrey Parsons

photo credit: Peter Grifoni Ella via photopin (license)

Where Can I Turn for Peace?

Having been immersed in the fitness realm for over twenty years, I have come to a greater understanding of the many challenges which people face. I have a better appreciation for those who continue to try to progress in spite of obstacles which could be paralyzing. Speaking directly to that word, one can be mentally paralyzed as well as physically. I have witnessed those confined to a wheel chair achieve things that I would never have imagined possible. I’m sure that you’ve drawn inspiration, as I have, from someone you’ve seen profiled in a story. Perhaps, like me, you’ve come to know someone on a very personal level who defies their disability. Heck, they don’t think of themselves as disabled, and neither should we label them as such. We would do well to adopt the motto which one of my friends frequently spews: “Strength doesn’t come from what you can do. It comes from overcoming the things you once thought you couldn’t.”–Anonymous Though his body is “broken”, he has accomplished incredible physical feats which put me to shame. However, continuing with my focus on another form of affliction, I refer to the one in five American adults who will have a diagnosable mental health condition in any given year; those who “quietly endure, silently suffer, and patiently wait”.–Martin Luther King

Can you imagine there coming a point in your life when you would ever stop believing that you can progress? What must it be like to come to the conclusion that there can simply be no more forward movement even in the prime of your life? What is the worst case scenario in which you could picture yourself? Well, I have met some individuals who believe that the very best they can do is to acknowledge their truth, which is that they are stuck. They make the sad declaration that their only means of survival is to quietly submit to a perceived reality in which their brokenness cannot be fixed. They see their battle as incompatible with a positive outcome, not allowing for a happy ending to the story of their life. Some people do suffer every day of their lives, while others can suffer a lifetime in a single day. No matter the severity of one’s mental health woes; no matter the name attached to the disorder; no matter how long this burden has been carried; I offer this encouragement. “If you saw the size of the blessing coming, you would understand the magnitude of the battle you are fighting.”–Toby Mac

William James once said, “If this life is not a real fight in which something is eternally gained by success, it is nothing more than a game of private theatricals from which one may withdraw at will.” I am heart-broken when I see the increasing rate of suicide in our society. The numbers are staggering and grow daily. This epidemic is preventable. Madame de Stael added this profound thought. “Divine wisdom, intending to detain us some time on earth, has done well to cover with a veil the prospect of the life to come; for if our sight could clearly distinguished the opposite bank, who could remain on this tempestuous coast of time?” I would be remiss if I did not add these words of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians. “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” My friends, wherever you may be stuck in your journey, and for whatever reason, there is always hope. “Their is no life so shattered that it cannot be restored.”–Dieter F. Uchtdorf

In the struggles of mortality, we are never left alone to accomplish our work, to fight our battles, to face adversity or unanswered questions. Jesus taught that men aught to pray often and not to faint. “Your worst day with God will be better than your best day without Him.”–unknown Though your mind make be broken and your hopes and dreams shattered, there is reason to press forward in faith. I absolutely love how Trent Shelton addressed this: “We are all a little broken. But, the last time that I checked, broken crayons still color the same.” Each and every one of you has a special purpose for being here. My own experiences have taught me that we can rise above our weaknesses. In these bodies, we are but frail creatures. However, these mortal shells house our immortal spirits. What does that mean? How can that knowledge bring the hope to continue? If our afflictions prevent us from engaging in the physical exercise that we desire to feel better, then we can focus on strengthening our spiritual muscles. Even as our physical being becomes weaker, our spirit can continue to grow in strength. Our limitations may make proper nutrition, restful sleep, and stress reduction very difficult to achieve, but not impossible as some believe. Nevertheless, “when you are no longer able to do the things you used to do, simply focus on the things that matter most.”–Richard G. Scott Consequently, the things that matter most always lead us to explore our everlasting spirit.

Where can I turn for peace? Where is my solace when other sources cease to make me whole? When with a wounded heart, anger, or malice, I draw myself apart, searching my soul? Where when my aching grows, where when I languish, where, in my need to know, where can I run? Where is the quiet hand to calm my anguish? Who, can understand? He, only One. He answers privately, reaches my reaching in my Gethsemane, savior and friend. Gentle the peace he finds for my beseeching. Constant he is and kind, love without end. –Emma Lou Thayne

Lift up your heads. Be of good cheer. Though you may feel like half the man or woman you used to be or still feel you should be, your affliction will never destroy your spirit. It is 100% healthy and waiting for further nourishment. The bravest people I know are those with a mental health disorder. Through the course of time, each has come to believe in this truth: “You were given this life because you were strong enough to live it.”–Chad Hymas The wisest of these seek comfort from the Great Comforter.