So Different From This Hell I’m Living

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I had a dream my life would be so different from this hell I’m living.
 
The lyrics above were sung by Fantine, a fictitious factory worker turned prostitute mother in the musical Les Miserables. It’s been reported that in preparing for the role of Fantine, actress Anne Hathaway tried to envelope herself in sadness. She even sent her husband away from her for a time because his being near her made her too happy to play the role accordingly. Her plans certainly succeeded for she played the role flawlessly.
However, the words she sang are all too often the very true unsung anthems of countless people in our world today. These victims of life live in all corners of society, silently marking time with their steps and lives, all the while watching their dreams being pulled further and further away. I think if people everywhere spoke honestly, they would admit that they’ve all felt this way at one time or another. I know I have.
Why do we feel this way? Because we feel just as trapped as Fantine did when she felt as if she had no option but to sell her body to support her child. We feel trapped because of our own burdens and responsibilities. We feel trapped because of our financial predicaments, relational connections, and personality flaws and failures. Even though these situations are sometimes thrust upon us, we often are casualties of our own choices and we know it all too well. In these times, we realize that the dreams of our lives have been abandoned, traded for security, sanity, positions, and possessions.
Interestingly enough, these feelings do not end when we give our lives to Jesus. In some ways, they actually intensify over time because we’ve placed targets on our backs for the devil. It seems that one of tools Satan uses to keep us from worshiping the Lord and living productive Christian lives is through discouragement. When He sees us giving our lives to and living for Christ, Satan reminds us of the unpleasant, annoying, hectic, and unnerving parts of our lives, forcing us to focus on them, pushing us farther from contentment and peace and pulling us into darker thoughts, leading to despair and disappointment.
But we don’t have to let our circumstances determine our attitudes. In 2 Corinthians 10:5, Paul wrote that we can bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. Even though we don’t feel like doing so at the time, whenever we are overwhelmed by these feelings, we must take action. We should not and cannot continually live in that muck and mire.
Here are some things I remind myself of when my mind is leaning toward discontentment and entrapment:
  • The Lord will help us do what we need to do right when we need Him to do it. The Apostle Paul wrote: I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. That doesn’t just mean the overwhelming gigantic glorious assignments, it means the everyday and mundane tasks as well.
  • God cares about our dreams. The Psalmist wrote in Psalm 37:4: Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you your heart’s desires. It’s been my experience that He understands our deep down desires and passions more than we ever could. Taking delight in Him also helps us remember that He is the lifter of our faith, and our heads, not our hopes and dreams.
  • We will see a lot happen if we hold fast to the Lord. In John 15:5, Jesus said, Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in Me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from Me you can do nothing. If we remain in Jesus (focus on Him, talk with Him, worship Him, read His word, etc…), He will remain in us. We’ll know He’s there. He will help us be successful in being fruitful for Him, and we will feel more content when we see the positive results.
  • If we can’t love what we are doing, we should at least love why we’re doing it. I have a friend who shared with me that he struggles every day with wanting to quit his job. He’s looking for another place of employment with equal or greater pay and benefits, yet says he will stay where he is until he secures a better working environment. When I asked why, he said, “I can’t stand the job, but I love my wife and kids. I’d do anything for them.” Jesus said in John 15, There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. My friend is laying down his life, at least for the time being, to provide for those he loves.
  • Counting Your Blessings is not just an old hymn. It’s true. Psalm 103:2 says Let all that I am praise the Lord; may I never forget the good things He does for me. Another old song I heard as a child contained the lyrics It’s amazing what praising can do. It’s true.
  • Helping others takes your mind off of yourself and reminds you of how fortunate you truly are. Jesus said the second greatest commandment was Love your neighbor as yourself. My life group feeds breakfast to the homeless once a month. Serving these men and women help me remember how truly blessed I am.
What helps you when you find yourself leaning toward discontentment? Would you be willing to comment about it below?
*Photo by Marc Olivier Jodoin. Used Courtesy of Unsplash.

Review of Les Miserables Movie

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I recently had the opportunity to watch the recent movie adaptation of the musical version of Victor Hugo’s classic novel Les Miserables.  I thoroughly enjoyed this rendition of what has been called the longest running musical in history, even though there were a few disappointments.

But first, here’s a short synopsis:

Les Miserables tells a story of broken dreams, unfulfilled love, lifelong resentment, ongoing sacrifice, unrivaled patriotism, and finally redemption set with the interesting backdrop of 19th-century France.  In the story, Jean Valjean, former convict (arrested for stealing a loaf of bread) and parole violator, is hunted for decades by the unrelenting Inspector Javert.  During the time of his parole violation, Valjean takes on a new identity and becomes a successful businessman and politician.  Later, Valjean agrees to care for the terminated factory worker turned prostitute Fantine’s young daughter, Cosette.  Meanwhile, another man has been mistakenly identified as Valjean.  The real Jean Valjean appears in court and reveals the truth about his identity, giving up both his life and position in society.  Even after his confession, Valjean escapes from custody and retrieves Cosette from the evil Thenardiers.  Eight years are spent in hiding for Valjean and Cosette.  Then, Valjean is nearly recaptured because of being spotted by the Thenardiers and Cosette falls in love with the young Marius, who is loved desperately by Eponine, the daughter of the Thenardiers.  The story deepens as all of the characters interact in passionate and even violent ways.

Click here to see the official trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EkHHHUk8RCw

One brave experiment done in this interpretation of Victor Hugo’s epic tale is that every take was filmed with live singing.  This may be criticized by some, but it actually helps the film seem more real to the viewer.  Eddie Redmayne, who plays Marius, explains:

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“Normally if you were making an old-school movie musical, as a group of actors, we’d go into a studio and we’d record an album and then two months later we’d arrive on set.  They would play the playback and we would mime alongside it.  The problem with that is that you have to make all of your acting choices three months before you’ve even met the actor that you’re working with.  By recording it live, Tom (the director) is allowing us the spontaneity of normal film acting.” 

To see the full clip with interviews with Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman, Eddie Redmayne, and others, click here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K-uw5TehnZA

When the recording was done, the actors used an earpiece which allowed them to hear accompaniment from a live pianist.  This meant that they weren’t confined to the tempo of a studio track, allowing them even more freedom.  Then, later, the piano music was replaced by an orchestral accompaniment following the actor’s voice for the tempo.  To me, the success of this was best seen by Samantha Barks, who portrayed Eponine, singing On My Own and with Anne Hathaway, who protrayed Fantine, singing I Dreamed A Dream.  The (good) acting made all of the difference.

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One of my favorite scenes in the production was the comic relief piece Master of the House made complete by the performances of Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baren Cohen as the Thenardiers.  Even though I’m not a big fan of Sacha Baren Cohen because of his portrayal of Borat demeaning the entire country of Kazakhstan (where I spent a year of my life), I must admit that I was able to forget his true identity during this presentation and I truly enjoyed his performance, especially alongside the talented Helena Bonham Carter.

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The entire movie production of Les Miserables, in my opinion, was very well done.  I enjoyed the improvement of the acting that is not often seen in many musicals as well as the musical interpretations of the songs presented.  Even though Russell Crowe’s vocal performance was somewhat lacking, I was very impressed by the performances of Anne Hathaway, Hugh Jackman, Eddie Redmayne, Samantha Barks, and to a lesser extent, Amanda Seyfried.  There were a few odd moments during the musical, such as the constant foreshadowing of Javert’s suicide and the unfounded cause of Jean Valjean’s death.  All in all, I wish I would have cared more about the characters, however, I cared enough about them to enjoy this production immensely.