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In the beginniMarkKGabbyGng of the book, “Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope,” Mark Kelly wrote that he and his wife, Gabby Giffords hoped that 2011 would be “the best year of their lives.” Kelly would command the last flight of the orbiter Endeavor, Giffords would begin her third term in Congress, and the two would hopefully conceive a child together.

Instead, 2011 was punctuated, first with terror and grief – then with a daily routine of hard work, occasional setbacks and personal triumphs. Together, Giffords and Kelly, a couple bonded deeply by love, learned what survival really meant after suffering a severe brain injury.

From the moment Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly found love and a new life with each other, the pretty Arizona congresswoman and the brave astronaut captured each other’s hearts.

The couple met in 2003 when both were selected to attend a young leaders’ forum by the National Committee in U.S.-China relations. The next year, they met again when the group reconvened in Arizona. At the time, Kelly was 40, newly divorced and living in Houston with two daughters. Giffords was 34, living in Tucson, 18 months into her first term as the youngest woman ever elected to the Arizona Senate.

“I thought she was out of my league,” Kelly said. “She had a compelling urge to learn everything she needed to know to represent the people of Arizona. If she was working on legislation that had to do with the death penalty, then she needed to visit death row.”

It wasn’t hard for those closest to Giffords to see how her feelings were really beginning to grow for Kelly.

“I remember Gabby telling me she met this fellow and then she giggled,” said Robert Reich, former labor secretary and close family friend. “I said, ‘He must be tall, dark and very handsome,’ and she laughed and said, ‘No. He’s short and bald, and I love him.’”

Kelly was just the man Giffords was looking for. He was smart, supportive and sincere, all characteristics she had been searching for in someone. They were both incredibly smitten.

The two wed in 2007 on a beautiful organic produce farm outside of Tucson. After the wedding, Kelly returned to her job in Houston and Giffords to her work in Arizona and Washington, D.C. as a U.S. representative. The couple’s commuter marriage continued until Giffords was shot on Jan. 8. 2011 by Jared Lee Loughner in a shooting spree.  

Since the shooting, their lives have dramatically changed, now filled with work, movies, friends and ongoing speech, yoga and physical therapy for Giffords. While the couple has to deal with their share of adjustments and challenges, the six years since the shooting have brought the two closer together; they’ve learned a lot about life and love along the way.

“Now we live in the same place and see each other more often than we ever did,” Giffords said. “It’s taught me how important it is for a relationship to have a strong foundation of loyalty and respect.”

There are a number of lessons they’ve learned on their journey that have really helped keep the couple happy, healthy and moving forward. One of them is acceptance. Giffords has physical limitations and walks slower than she used to. She has nonfluent aphasia, which means she understands conversation clearly but struggles to speak in complete sentences. This experience has taught Kelly how to be a more patient person and the benefits that come with that.

“To communicate basic ideas might take 20 minutes as long as it used to,” Kelly said. “It requires a lot of patience. I never thought of myself as a very patient person, but I’m a lot more now.”

Another major lesson they’ve learned is the power of positive thinking.

“The injury Gabby suffered was horrific,” Kelly said. “It will affect her for the rest of her life. If the roles were reversed, I’d be a little bitter, but she isn’t. She pops up everyday looking ahead and trying to figure out how to be a positive force in the world. She doesn’t get down; she realizes we can’t go back in time and there’s no undoing this. There’s no point in feeling sorry for yourself; all you can do is try to do the best you can do with what you’ve got.”

Finally, one of the greatest lessons they’ve learned through all of this is the value of loyalty and teamwork.

“People come up to me all the time and commend me for hanging in there,” Kelly said. “I always find that odd because what’s the other option? In situations like this, you don’t bolt and leave – the idea never occurred to me.”

While Giffords continues to rely on Kelly’s assistance, this doesn’t stop her from being a supportive partner who gives as much as she receives.

“Before the shooting, we balanced each other because he loved to talk and I was more reserved,” Giffords said. “While I was in Congress, I often looked to him for his expertise in the military and science. He looked to me for my experience in politics, business and life. Now, Mark does most of the talking but we still lean on each other for expertise. Our relationship has always been based on mutual respect and adoration.”

Every day Giffords tackles new challenges, encouraged by the fact that Kelly will always be by her side. We can all learn a great deal from their love and the incredible lessons they’ve learned along the way.  

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It’s been nearly a decade since author William P. Young’s novel, The Shack, was published, selling over a million copies within the space of a year and going on to be one of the most influential pieces of Christian fiction ever produced.

There’s a good reason why The Shack went from self-published unknown to selling over 15 million copies between 2007 and 2011: through the novel, Young taps into the collective desire for a truly loving God in a time when many have become disillusioned with organized religion.

Now, on March 3rd, The Shack is finding new life on the big screen with its theatrical debut, starring Sam Worthington, Octavia Spencer and Tim McGraw.

We were lucky enough to have a chat with lead actor Sam Worthington, who portrayed the character of Mack Phillips, a man who, after the death of his young daughter, spirals into a deep depression and begins to question his faith in a good and loving God. Worthington, who was changed by his experience with The Shack, reveals insights that shed light on the depth and power of the film.

Here’s what he had to say on what led him—an action hero of Avatar and Terminator fame—to the role.

“To be honest, I read the script and I can’t really tell you why I said I wanted to do it. I had a visceral reaction to the script. Normally you pick a part because of the other actors involved or there was something you needed to say in the story, but I just had a feeling about it. I called the producers and said, ‘I don’t know what it is, but this thing really got me, and I’d love to do the film.’”

When we pressed a little about what drew Worthington to the script, he revealed something that millions of readers have been saying since the book’s release: the story gave him something he needed.

“I think maybe there’s something in it of those arguments that I’ve had with the world—I think maybe it was something about this man’s emotional journey, where I went, ‘Well, I’ve been a frustrated guy. I’ve built my own Shack. I’ve got to learn to forgive.’ I don’t know—those kinds of things really echoed with me. Film making is problem solving, and these are great problems to try and solve.”

The Shack is a parable for the anger and frustration and grief and guilt that we carry and are burdened by. We build these things in our lives, and we don’t have the tools to get out of them. If the movie and the book can give you those tools and give you those lessons, that’s a very interesting message to get across. So I think that’s what I was discovering as well: what are the tools, then? How do you move through forgiveness? How do you get to the other side and gain some clarity in your life?”

That’s the thing about the Bible, as well, you know. The Bible is stories, and out of these stories you gain insight into, alright, how can I parallel that with my life, and how do I use that to make me a better person, and use the lessons they’re teaching to make me a better person? So The Shack had that same kind of effect for me.”

The film, despite its emotional content, is no stranger to humor—the surreal weirdness of seeing God making biscuits in the kitchen will put a smile on audience members’ faces. When we asked Worthington what it was like to act out a nice country dinner with the God of the universe, he had this to say.

“That’s the weirdest thing, you know. I would tell my friends what I was doing, that I’m doing a movie where a guy who spends the weekend with God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. And you could see my mates looking at me like I’d lost my mind, not only in what I was saying, but just in the fact that I was going to do a movie like that.

The way it works, though, is that the scenes aren’t reverential—the scenes are done on a grounded level—almost two friends—that gives the film an element of truth, and out of that the arguments get a bit more gravity. So if you look at when people pray, you’re looking at God sometimes as the closest friend and only friend you’ve got left, so it’s not like it’s too overwhelming. I said that if we approach it that way, if Octavia approaches it in a grounded way, these arguments and messages will resonate more.”

It is in that very ordinary-ness that the film is most powerful. This isn’t a story of God speaking out of fire and thunder. This isn’t a grand narrative of His plans for humanity. This is a simple story of one man spending time with his Papa, something to which anyone, secular or Christian, can relate.

Worthington concluded with what he hopes people will take away from the film.

“I think it’s a hopeful film. That’s the main thing. I don’t have a nihilist view of the world—I want movies to kind of stay with you when you leave the cinema a lot longer than just crossing the lobby, and maybe promote conversation.”

And, indeed, the film is set to do just that. In addition to Worthington, we also had the pleasure of catching up with the author of The Shack, himself, William P. Young. A cheerful and and intelligent man who simply goes by Paul, his insights into his work were profound. But he had one thing to say that encapsulated the purpose of his book like nothing else.

“I grew up a modern Evangelical fundamentalist preacher’s kid, and [the purpose of the novel] was to say ‘Look, you know, I don’t want you to try to have a relationship with the God I grew up with. But let me write, as best I know how, the character and nature of the God who actually showed up and healed my heart.”

And that’s it. That’s why The Shack has changed so many lives, and will continue to change more when it reaches entirely new audiences on March 3rd. Whatever your beliefs, this film has something to offer–the very real and very grounded struggles of the protagonist will feel familiar to many, and the tools and lessons provided by the story of The Shack might just be what you need to help you through the most difficult and confusing questions life has to offer.

Hannah Rhodes (Danielle Campbell) lost her father Gentry Rhodes (Luke Perry) from a heart attack. She is faced with one of the biggest decisions of her life to save her family’s beloved horse ranch after her father accumulated debt. She has a choice to sell the ranch or pay $100,000 dollars to a man named Darden to keep the property in the film “Race to Win.”

She will need more than courage to press on–she will need to win a local horse race as her entire family legacy is at stake. With an upcoming barrel racing competition on the horizon, she entered with the hopes that she can be the family’s miracle.

But can she do it in 30 days?

Well, if she can overcome the evil Darden, who plots against her, she can. Darden will stop at nothing to get his money and the ranch, including hiring a vet to drug the horse she would be riding.

Although her father left the earth, he was still guiding his daughter. With the love and support from her family and visits from her dad, she realizes that she can make a difference.

The movie is about facing your fears, something we all can relate to and something the entire family can enjoy together. We are told in Deuteronomy 31:6 to “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” This Scripture easily ties into the film.

The film was given the Seal of Approval from The Dove Foundation and also stars Aiden Flowers (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children ), Candice Michele Barley (The Hollow), Thomas Francis Murphy (LBJ, Free State of Jones) and Amy Brassette (True Detective).

“Race to Win” will be available on DVD from Anchor Bay Entertainment. To learn more about the film, please visit www.anchorbayentertainment.com.

Holding-Heart_credit-Shutterstock.comFebruary 14th.  This date will either make us giddy with anticipation or remind individuals that it’s another year of riding solo. But what if you don’t fall into those two camps? What if you are recently out of a relationship and Valentine’s Day is just hanging over your head as a reminder that what you just had, you now don’t. You’re not only mourning the end of relationship, but it feels like this day has come to mock you. It can feel like a slap in the face or a punch in the gut. Here are some tips to get through this day of love if you are freshly out of a relationship.

Get Together with Your Tribe

Your friends probably already know what you’re going through. Having a team of supporters around can be a great distraction, or support if you want to talk about it. Order a pizza, get some drinks, turn on Netflix, buy a box of chocolate and finish the whole thing. Revel in an evening full of the love of friendship, and be reminded that there is something outside of romantic love to live for. You have a whole life full of Valentine Day’s ahead of you.

Ride it Solo

You might still need to be alone and take time to grieve the loss of a relationship. According to Psychotherapist Dr. Robi Ludwig,  The part of the brain devoted to the breakup has thousands of neural circuits devoted to this person, so it takes the brain some time to realize, come to terms with and ultimately recover from the harsh reality that this person is no longer there; hence, the reason why we feel this profound pain. If you need to process your pain, it might be best to spend a night alone. If you need a solo cry to a Nicholas Sparks movie or need to journal things out, devote your evening to activities that help you process your heart ache.

Treat it as a Normal Day

Don’t fall into the commercialization of Valentine’s Day. Some couples see right through this day as a marketing scheme to make millions of Americans spend money they don’t have and stress about unnecessary details. This day is full of unrealistic expectations, for both men and women. Many people just go about this day as normal. If you do too, you’re not alone.

Go Get Active

If being inside all night makes you feel trapped with your thoughts, go get active. A lot of people exercise to process emotions. This is a win-win. You will feel better after you burn a sweat and you are taking care of yourself.  You can get a group of single friends together and make it a fun active hang-out session. This is also a win-win. The group members are not alone on a night that is often a time of feeling lonely. A game of ultimate Frisbee is fun, grab some bikes and hit a trail, or simply go on a walk.

Valentine’s Day will pass. But your heartache and feelings will still take time to process. Try not to get too hung up on a day of love. If you are freshly out of a relationship, only you know what you will need on February 14th, so make sure you do what you need to take care of your emotional needs.

Written by Savannah Lawson