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Today's post was written by and shared with the permission of Rusty Wright.

Ever have trouble getting people you love to embrace your life dreams? You'll likely identify with Ryan Wade in The Identical.

Music is in his soul. He has the looks, voice and moves of Elvis, and drives audiences wild. But his preacher father has different dreams for him, setting up a monumental collision.

What unfolds is a fun Rock 'n' Roll parable with an upbeat, inspiring, message about finding purpose, revealing secrets, and experiencing redemption. Tunes to get you swaying and romantic odes touch your heart as they depict young love, discovering identity, and learning what really matters.

Conflicting dreams

This fictional story spans four decades from the 1930's Great Depression to the 1970's. We see early Rock evolve as Ryan (Blake Rayne) seeks to find his way. He loves to sing, but his father (Ray Liotta; Goodfellas, Field of Dreams) wants him in the ministry. His mother (Ashley Judd; Divergent, High Crimes) quietly observes their interaction without choosing sides.

Ryan memorizes Bible verses as a child and attends Bible college as a young man. But African-American R&B captivates his heart. When Drexel Hemsley – the film's Elvis-esque figure – tops the music charts, the mesmerized Ryan feels he knows what Drexel "The Dream" is thinking. The two are dead ringers (Rayne plays both parts); Ryan insists to inquirers they're not related.

Secret past

But we know they are, identical twins separated at birth. Their impoverished parents, amid mutual anguish, invited the Wades – childless after multiple miscarriages – to adopt one boy. Pledged to secrecy, the Wades raised Ryan as their own.

Ryan pursues a music career – eventually as "The Identical," a Drexel Hemsley impersonator – triggering painful family explosions. His mom accepts reality first, advising Ryan, "The love of God seeks us in every situation and desires our good. If He is in your dreams, nothing can stand against them."

Ryan explains to his disappointed father: "I'm just trying to be what He made me to be, and not something else." Biblical statements his dad had him memorize as a kid foreshadow his journey:

"'For I know the plans I have for you,' says the Lord. 'They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.'"

Ryan is ever the consummate gentleman in dating, marriage, and with adoring fans. In the end, all this confusion and conflict comes to … well, I won't spoil it for you. But I'll wrap with some fun facts, plus a personal reflection.

Fun facts; personal reflection

It's not surprising that an Elvis-esque story includes twins and spiritual themes. The real Elvis Presley's twin brother, Jessie, was stillborn. Elvis often experienced survivor guilt and a desire to know him. Elvis' only Grammy Award for a single came for his 1974 recording of "How Great Thou Art," a famous hymn. The lyrics, which likely reflected his own spiritual roots, point to hope beyond human accomplishment.

I can identify with a son whose dreams conflict with those of his parents – which is probably the reason this film resonates with me. After finding faith during university, I sought a career with a Christian nonprofit, much to my parents' dismay. My mother enlisted an attorney friend to try to convince me to attend law school. But my heart was set on helping spread worldwide the faith that had transformed me. Eventually, my folks accepted the inevitable.

Fifteen years later, my father told me he thought what I was doing was extremely worthwhile, a deeply validating affirmation. "If He is in your dreams, nothing can stand against them," counseled Ashley Judd’s character in the movie. She was right.
--------- Opens September 5.

Rated PG (USA) for "thematic material and smoking".
Rusty Wright is an author and lecturer who has spoken on six continents. He holds Bachelor of Science (psychology) and Master of Theology degrees from Duke and Oxford universities, respectively.

Recently a friend of mine asked this question on her Facebook page: How big is the gap between the life you're living and the one you want to be living? I wonder how many people are truly living their dreams. Perhaps some have achieved earlier dreams and now they want something more, while others are still struggling to reach their desired milestones. The truth is that there is always something getting in the way of our dreams, and we have to find our way around it if we want to succeed.

Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that I often include Jeremiah 29:11 as a reference in my posts. I do so because it is a verse that clearly states that God wants what is best for us. He is not an ogre up in the sky playing games with our lives. He knows that we have dreams because He is the one who placed them within us, but He also has a higher purpose.

The people of Israel certainly didn’t dream of being exiled to Babylon, and they didn’t intend to stay long if they could help it. Jeremiah the prophet sent them a letter to say that they would be there for 70 years, so they might as well settle down, build houses, plant crops and do their best to help the Babylonians to be prosperous. When their time of exile was over, God would restore them to their land. (Jeremiah 29:5-7, Jeremiah 29:10)

Seventy years! Can you imagine how many doubts about God would run through your mind in that amount of time? God planned to give the exiles a future and a hope, prosperity and not harm, but these plans were not immediate. And they were part of a bigger plan that applies to us too. God’s bigger plan was that the people of Israel would learn to turn to God, to seek Him with all their heart. (Jeremiah 29:12-14, Deuteronomy 30:9-10)

So what should we do when we encounter obstacles on the way to our dreams? I think the most important thing we can do is to remember God’s higher purpose—we need to trust and rely on Him. Then I think that we need to continue to work to make the best of our circumstances, and to help those around us, as Jeremiah instructed the exiles to do. In time, we will get past the obstacles and back on the road to our dreams.

In Canada, it is the last day of summer, the day before school starts. To mark the occasion today's post celebrates summer and perseverance. It is a review of the movie Soul Surfer by Meg Korpi and Rusty Wright.

Kauai, 2003. A 14-foot tiger shark bursts through the waves and tears off 13-year-old Bethany Hamilton’s left arm. She loses 60 percent of her blood, and faces the end of her pro surfing dreams. Three months later, the unstoppable teen is surfing competitively again.

If you’re looking for inspiration to thrive in tough times or to appreciate life more fully, Soul Surfer—the movie based on Hamilton’s brush with death and remarkable comeback—will knock your socks off. The Sony Pictures release, starring AnnaSophia Robb, Dennis Quaid, Helen Hunt, and Carrie Underwood opened across North America in April, and was available on DVD August 2, 2011.

Fantastic Surfing, Tough Competition, Heart-stopping Tragedy, Strong Character

The film’s breathtaking surfing footage and heart-pounding athletic competition will appeal to sports enthusiasts. But Bethany’s true story of gut-wrenching tragedy, driven character, and hard-won victory is what makes Soul Surfer worth seeing.

Pre-attack, Bethany (Robb) is a lighthearted kid, as well as a skilled surfer. (At 13, she ranked #2 among females 18-and-under in the USA.) After the attack, Bethany emerges as poised and determined, with a well-grounded spirit. Where does a 13-year-old gain the inner strength to remain surprisingly positive while adapting to a missing limb and rebuilding athletic prowess?

Why This? Why Me?

After the attack, Bethany struggles with the mundane (ever try slicing a tomato with one hand?), the profound (how could this be God’s plan?), and the weighty (“will a boy ever like me with only one arm?”). In addition, as a champion surfer driven by love of the sport, Bethany confronts the likely loss of her career: How could she possibly paddle a surfboard, one-armed, through breaking surf, much less re-conquer championship surfing maneuvers?

“I don’t need easy; I just need possible”

But a love of God also drives Bethany. In a story line that some may see as contrived, but which reflects actual events, her youth group leader, Sarah Hill (Underwood), encourages her with the biblical assurance: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘…plans for good and not for harm, to give you a future and a hope.’” (Jeremiah 29:11)

As Bethany learns to rely on this truth, it compels here. With dogged determination, she decides to tackle surfing again. She seeks help from her father (Quaid).

“It’s not going to be easy,” he cautions.

“I don’t need easy,” replies Bethany. “I just need possible.”

Inspiring Role Model

At the film’s NYC premiere, director Sean McNamara offered insight into Bethany’s remarkable fortitude. “Her faith was amazing. I watched her overcome adversity and [attribute it to her] faith in Jesus Christ … I’d been through years of Catholic school, but it’s different when you actually see someone walk the walk and talk the talk.”

This film will not necessarily please moviegoers who expect dark drama and gore from a shark-attack movie. Skeptics will likely scoff at the portrayal of Bethany’s resilience and positive attitude. In fact, the filmmakers toned down the real Bethany’s indomitable spirit for fear audiences wouldn’t find her believable. “They kept wanting [her character] to act sad in the hospital,” Bethany’s brother Noah told us, “but she wasn’t like that. She was upbeat.”

Good teen role models are hard to come by. Thirteen-year–olds who inspire adults to greater courage are virtually unheard of. If one is open-minded enough to accept the fact that admirable and wise-beyond-their-years teens do exist, one could learn a lot from Bethany’s example.

Soul Surfer is thought-provoking PG entertainment. The Hamilton family’s faith is portrayed as integral to the characters, not preachy. The shark-attack scene is tame enough for the squeamish. We found the movie hard to leave in the theater, and carried it in our heads for days, reflecting on the individuals’ character, wisdom and choices.

Some of the real Bethany’s insights are so profound and selfless that they’re indeed hard for the rest of us to comprehend. She once said,

“If I can help other people find hope in God, then that is worth losing my arm for.”

Amazing. Grace.

Meg Korpi studies character development and ethical decision-making through the Character Research Institute in Northern California. She holds a PhD from, and formerly taught at, Stanford University.

Rusty Wright is an author and lecturer who has spoken on six continents. He holds Bachelor of Science (psychology) and Master of Theology degrees from Duke and Oxford universities, respectively.

On Monday, we looked at Jeremiah 17:5-6, and saw that those who do not trust in the Lord will be cursed. They will be like a shrub that lives in a barren land, unable to thrive. I promised that today I would show you the other, more encouraging, side of the coin. It is found in Jeremiah 17:7-8.

Those who are blessed by the Lord will be like a tree planted near streams of water. They will have a constant supply, and they will develop a good root system. They will not need to fear the heat or the occasional drought. When hard times come they will have the strength to face them, and come through to the other side. They will always be vibrant, and fruitful. Despite whatever is going on in the climate around them, they will be able to be productive because they are well rooted to their source of life.

What must we do to be blessed this way? We must trust God, put our confidence in Him. This is so much easier to say than to do. Recently I was involved in a Bible study on the topic of trusting God, so I have become much more aware of the fact that I usually don’t. Yes, I pray for help, especially when things get really tough, but generally I try to do things on my own. I try to work things out, plan for the future, prepare. I have found that things don’t always turn out the way you plan. And sometimes, when God is trying to teach you how to trust in Him, they seldom turn out the way you plan! But since I’ve been doing this Bible study, I’ve been learning to say, “Okay, God, I trust you. I am leaving this in your hands. Please let me know what I need to do, and I will let you take care of the rest.” It is amazing how well circumstances can work out when you leave God in control. Try it. I believe that the more you consciously give control over to God and trust in Him, the easier and more habitual it will become, and you will be blessed.

In my last post, I mentioned that God wants us to rely on Him. The prophet’s words in Jeremiah 17:5-6 make that clear. Those who rely on themselves or on other humans will be cursed. In Jeremiah 17:1-4, we see that the people of Judah were worshipping and relying on idols. They provoked God to anger which resulted in them being carried off into captivity. In verses 5 and 6, Jeremiah is warning the people that those who trust in any human, including themselves will not succeed. When you trust in others, you will be let down. When you trust in yourself, you will be let down. In fact, God’s words through Jeremiah are so much stronger than that. Only God is infallible. When you don’t trust in Him, you will be cursed.

You will remember, I hope, from a previous post (February 28, 2011), that God is slow to anger. (Nahum 1:3, Exodus 34:6, Psalm 145:8, Joel 2:13). It is not that the people of Judah slipped up just once. They repeatedly rejected the Lord their God who brought them out of Egypt into the promised land. If you read about their journey, you will see the pattern repeat itself over and over again.

God is patient with us too, but what Jeremiah said to the people of Judah also applies to us. When we don’t invite God into our lives, not only our hearts, but our everyday activities, we will be like a shrub in a dry land. Our roots won’t be strong enough to get to the water, and we won’t be able to grow. We may get along for a little while, but we will not thrive.

I think the reason that many people reject God is that they want to be independent; they don’t want to give up control of their lives. They somehow think that if they surrender themselves to God, they will be giving up their freedom, and their lives will be dreary and dull. In fact, the opposite is true. Come back on Wednesday to see the other side of this coin.