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Archive for the month “October, 2014”

Unbroken Yet Broken

The year was 1949 and Louis Zamperini was in a broken marriage that was apparently about to crash into a thousand pieces.  His wife, who he had married shortly after he returned from the war had recently become a Christian.  In an effort to save his marriage he agreed to attend a Billy Graham service that night.  Billy Graham preached about how we all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.  Graham talked about being forgiven and Louis thought about the dark dreams of being tortured that he was having.  Louis knew that forgiveness wouldn’t be easy but it needed to come from his heart too.  Then Louis remembered his many vows to God that he had made while clinging to life on a life raft in the ocean for 47 days.

Obstacles came early to Louis Zamperini and his family.  When they first moved to Torrence, California none of them spoke English.  Louis was the victim of bully attacks at every turn.  Often Louis came home beaten and because of this his father taught him the art of self defense  to defend himself.  As Louis learned how to fight he looked for revenge against kids that bullied him in the past. He became a bully as he viciously got even with his one time tormenters.  His brother, who was a star runner, decided to take Louis with him.  He thought that Louis could channel that bully energy into something good.  Louis ran with his brother and when he wasn’t keeping up his brother used a whip on his legs to push him much like a jockey whips a horse.  As Louis started placing in races he discovered that he was gaining more attention with his classmates.  Before he felt ignored or almost like he wasn’t there, but now he was feeling like he belonged.  This feeling of importance pushed him in his running.  He dedicated his life totally to running and he improved in leaps and bounds.  Years later he would admit that he was all in and that he wouldn’t even touch a milkshake for fear of it’s harmful effects to his running.

Starting with his first cross country race and continuing his final three years in high school Louis went undefeated!  In 1934 he set a high school record for the mile with a time of 4:21.2!  A week later he won the CIF California State Meet Championship with a time of 4:27.8!  That accomplishment helped him win a scholarship at the University of Southern California!  In 1936 Louis decided that he wanted to run in the Olympics.  That year the qualifying took place in Randalls Island, New York.  In those days runners had to pay their own transportation fees to get to the event.  Luckily for Louis his father worked for the railroad and was able to get him free transportation.  A bigger problem was expense money once he got there.  That problem was solved by the generosity of local Torrence merchants who raised expense money for their local hero!

Louis decided to enter the 5000 meter race when he arrived.  The 1500 meter had a strong field and Louis felt his chances were better to qualify in the longer race.  His chief competition would be the American record holder in the event Don Lash.  The event would test Zamperini’s ability to survive as it was ran on one of the hottest days of the year.  The race saw co-favorite Norm Bright and many others collapse during the race.  Determined with everything he had within him despite the obstacles Zamperini finished in a dead heat with Lash!  They would both represent the United States in the Berlin, Germany Olympics as Louis became the youngest American qualifier ever in the 5000 meter at only 19 years old!

Zamperini qualified for the finals in one of the three preliminary runs where only the top five advanced.  In the final he finished eighth in the world ahead of his fellow American teammate Don Lash!  He had a finishing lap of 56 seconds which was so fast that it got Adolph Hitler’s attention.  Hitler made a request to meet Zamperini and Zamperini remembered his words of “Ah, your the boy with the fast finish!”  After the Olympics Zamperini went on with his running.  In 1938 he set a national collegiate mile record of 4:08 that stood for fifteen years!

Zamperini enlisted in the Air Force in September of 1941 and earned a commission as a second lieutenant.  He was deployed to the Pacific island of Funafuti as a bombardier on the B-24 Liberator bomber Super Man. In April, 1943, during a bombing mission against the Japanese held island of Nauru, the plane was badly damaged in combat. With Super Man no longer flight-worthy, and a number of the crew injured, the healthy crew-members were transferred to Hawaii to await reassignment. Zamperini, along with some other former Super Man crew were assigned to conduct a search for a lost aircraft and crew. They were given another B-24, The Green Hornet, notorious among the pilots as a defective “lemon plane”. While on the search, mechanical difficulties caused the plane to crash into the ocean 850 miles west of Oahu, killing eight of the eleven men aboard.

The three survivors (Zamperini and his crewmates, pilot Russel Allen “Phil” Phillips and Francis “Mac” McNamara), with little food and no water, subsisted on captured rainwater and small fish eaten raw. They caught two albatrosses, which they ate and used to catch fish, all while fending off constant shark attacks and nearly being capsized by a storm. They were strafed multiple times by a Japanese bomber, which punctured their life raft, but no one was hit. McNamara died after 33 days at sea.[]

How could anyone keep going in such circumstances?  Day after day wondering if it would be your last.  Riding up and down pushed by the ocean waves on a little raft.  Having to bury their fellow initial survivor after he couldn’t make it on the 33rd day.  Yet Zamperini and Phillips kept hope alive.  They kept thinking that by some miracle they would survive even when the odds seemed so small.  That was when Zamperini first got serious with God.  It had to be like one of those promises that we all might say during stressful times.  “God, if you get me out of this I will do whatever you want me to do!”

On their 47th day adrift, Zamperini and Phillips reached land in the Marshall Islands and were immediately captured by the Japanese Navy.[21] They were held in captivity, severely beaten, and mistreated until the end of the war in August 1945. Initially held at Kwajalein Atoll, after 42 days they were transferred to the Japanese prisoner-of-war camp at Ōfuna, for captives who were not registered as prisoners of war (POW). Zamperini was later transferred to Tokyo’s Ōmori POW camp, and was eventually transferred to the Naoetsu POW camp in northern Japan, where he stayed until the war ended. He was tormented by prison guard Mutsuhiro Watanabe (nicknamed “The Bird”), who was later included in General Douglas MacArthur‘s list of the 40 most wanted war criminals in Japan. Held at the same camp was then-Major Greg “Pappy” Boyington, and in his book, Baa Baa Black Sheep, he discusses Zamperini and the Italian recipes Zamperini would write to keep the prisoners’ minds off the food and conditions.[18] Zamperini had at first been declared missing at sea, and then, a year and a day after his disappearance, KIA. When he eventually returned home he received a hero’s welcome.

Can you imagine after surviving on a raft for 47 days and finally seeing land how excited Zamperini and Phillips must have been.  Normally it would have been a thrilling time for them along with their rescuers.  They would have been taken to a hospital and nourished back to full strength.  Can you imagine being so weak after such an experience only to face the reality of being captured by the enemy?  Day after day for the next two years Zamperini was mistreated and beaten but never broken.

As Zamperini was sitting in the Billy Graham meeting he thought about all of the people that had wronged him.  He thought about the beatings he had taken and all of the reasons he should never forgive any of them.  Then he thought about the commitment he was about to make.  It couldn’t have been easy but he decided to forgive his enemies much like Jesus did when he died upon the cross.  After that night Zamperini was a changed man.  No longer did he have the dark dreams that were torturing him as much as his prisoner experiences had.  Now he had a peace about him and a love that he couldn’t understand.

Billy Graham helped Zamperini in his next mission of becoming an inspirational speaker.  Through the years when people heard his story they listened.  It was such an amazing story that people were drawn to God by it!  How could a man who suffered so much and was treated so badly be willing to forgive and forget?  It could only be through God that it was possible.

Through the years Zamperini visited many of the guards who mistreated him in prison.  He always let them know that he had forgiven them.  The ones who experienced his forgiveness were shocked that he would feel that way.  As hard as most of their hearts were they had to be softened by this man who only had love in his heart.  They had to feel enormous guilt for what they had done to him.  They had to see a man who in spite of everything that happened was living such a victorious live!

Until the day he died Zamperini went around the world preaching forgiveness.  He was on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno telling his life story only a couple of years ago.  He talked about his Olympic days which people in our sports crazy society wanted to hear.  He talked about the torture that he lived through while in the P.O.W. camp.  He was an old man now at 95.  His loving wife was with him for 55 years until she passed away in 2001.  Yes God put that broken relationship together in a beautiful way! Long ago Zamperini was pronounced dead as the American Government notified his parents that he was lost at sea.  Later he was returned home to a heroes welcome!  It was like he came back to life again!  Four years later he died again.  This death was a death to his old life.  After that time he started living a new life in Christ!  Earlier this year Zamperini left us at 97.  Most of us will never see that age but God must have given him extra years as his reward.  The title of his movie coming out in December is called “Unbroken”.  It is a story of inspiration and hope no matter what you are going through.  On one night however Zamberini became a broken man.  That was when he stopped living and let God take over.  After that God rewarded him with many peaceful years of sharing his story of love, hope, and forgiveness!

I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:
II Timothy 4:7

 

I Give You My Words!

My words were not always easy to understand.  When I was six or seven I had trouble talking.  Today you wouldn’t picture me lacking communication skills but I did.   It wasn’t that I was shy, it was a case of people trying to understand me and not being able to.  My problem was my lack of knowledge on how to form my words.  There were certain basic sounds that I was not grasping.  If you think about it our language is made up of basic sounds.  Failure to pronounce those sounds will lead to a  communications problem.  At six or seven I didn’t really realize anything was wrong.  That is where a man named Mr. Vell stepped in.  Mr. Vell worked with kids like me that had a difficult time pronouncing their words.  He was bald headed and always wore a suit.  The characteristic that I remember most about Mr. Vell was that he was missing a hand.  Kids are drawn to uniqueness and a rumor surfaced that he lost his hand sticking it out the window while driving.  I never was able to get confirmation or denial on this rumor.  When Mr. Vell was working with the group of us that needed him his missing hand was never far out of my sight and mind.

One of the things that I loved about school at that time was recess.  Being able to run out on the playground with a favorite rubber ball or sliding down the slide was like heaven.  Right in the middle of my playground fun I’d hear a commotion.  There by the school was Mr. Vell waiving his only hand to get  my attention.  He had warned that he would be rounding us up.  How soon I forgot as I got my mind on my playground fun!  Quickly myself and my bad speech classmates realized that play was over.  Mr. Vell had a room with a table for us to sit at.  At the end of the table he sat and four or five of us would sit on the sides.  He pinpointed sounds that we were not making.  I think I was the worst in the class as each sound he asked for was totally different when I attempted it.  I’m sure there were many sounds that went awry for me, but two that I remember most that got his attention were my R’s and S’s.  Instead of attempting a word he had me attempting the sound.  He described R as the sound of a fire engine.  So he had me forming my lips in a pucker and making a fire engine sound.  To kids that is a fun way to learn.  Instead of trying to learn a complicated concept I was instead picturing a fire engine as I made it’s sound!  Mr. Vell had the same simple concept with my S’s.  He said that the S sound is like a snake.  At the time I was pronouncing snake (nake) assuming I had the K sound down.  Mr. Vell had me practice the sound the snake makes sssssssssss.  Before you knew it he was combining the sound of the snake with the rest of the word and I had it!  Those are the two letters I really remember but I’m positive that Mr. Vell helped me with all sorts of sounds.  Mr. Vell helped me so much over that year that it is ironic that he was missing a hand.  Looking back it seems that the helping hand he provided should be missing because he gave it to me!

RRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!

As I began to pronounce my words better people started to understand me.   As I grew up I learned that the basic fabric in human co-existence is being able to communicate and understand each other.  Letting others know that you love them or that something they are doing is not acceptable.  Trusting people and making agreements on that trust.  Written words that clearly specify what each party needs to do to fulfill the contract.  Saying words that you truly mean without some hidden agenda behind them.  Making promises that you truly intend to fulfill.

I have learned over the years that it isn’t the understanding of words that is  the problem with adults as much as the lack of being truthful in the words that we use.  Sometimes this lack of truthfulness is justified in our minds by the fear of hurting someones feelings.  The classic questions like “How do I look in this dress?”, comes to mind.  Other times we are not truthful because we just don’t want to be put into a light of looking bad.  Maybe something went wrong that was actually my fault in some way.  If I could deflect the blame to someone else it would put a better light on me.  Then there are times that for one reason or another we deceive people into thinking one thing when the truth is something else.  Sometimes words are used and sometimes we just let them assume the wrong thing.  For example, If someone else actually did something commendable but I got the credit and I didn’t set the record straight.

With elections coming up we see all kinds of promises.  Years later we will look back and examine the evidence.  So and so promised this and that but look what really happened.  Politics are full of broken promises.  Say anything to get elected is the motto we see so much.  Too often we see and hear ads that just sling mud on the opponent.  They aren’t about how the person placing the ads will make things better.  They are about how if the opponent gets elected his or her actions will cause disaster.

Front Cover

John Fetzer, the radio giant in days gone by had a book written about him.  The title said it all as far as his motto was concerned “On A Handshake.”  Phil Wrigley, the chewing gum giant of yesteryear preferred to have agreements with people without formal documents being made up.  Where is the trust that they had back then today?  When is a persons word truly their bond today?  How often do you wonder when someone said something if they will actually follow through?  People use words today because they sound good at the time.  “We’ll definitely have to get together” or “we’ll invite you to dinner sometime” might be offered with no intent on making it happen.  Words are powerful, yet words can be cheap too depending on who is using them and their trustworthiness.

Have you seen commercials about new medicines designed to cure diseases or at least symptoms?  After the commercial a long disclaimer is read.  You notice that the disclaimer is read much faster than the original commercial.  Sometimes instead of reading the disclaimer aloud they flash it in really fine print.  Nobody could possibly read the whole content in the limited few seconds that they give you.  How about actual contracts that we get into?  We see the basic stuff that we agree to but sooner or later we run into fine print.  They used to say that the fine print takes away what the big print gives.  With all of the sneakiness going around how easy is it to trust someone?  You learn also that it doesn’t matter what someone tells you.  They can tell you all kinds of things that you are agreeing to, but the contract that you sign is really what counts.  It’s no wonder that often we need a lawyer present to find the hidden realities of what we are signing.

When I was first learning to form my words and become understood I never dreamed that words even pronounced perfectly could become so unclear.  I never realized that people used words not only to communicate, but to get the upper hand on others.  When Mr. Vell waived his good hand at me to quit playing games and learn how to communicate, I never even imagined that grownups who spoke fluently were being called to do the same thing.  Aren’t you glad that we can trust God?  Aren’t you glad that he speaks only the truth and his contract with us is straight forward with no hidden surprises?

The Contract

by Lewis Hamilton
from the book “The Gardener and My Garden” c1997

I’ve got a contract with the Lord
that with his blood he signed
He offered it to all of us
yet it’s one of a kind

I examined it with a fine toothed comb
A lot of time was spent
to try to find restrictions
Where was all the fine print?

It promised me eternal life,
a heavenly home I’d win
if I just opened up my heart
and let the Savior in

Now logically I’ve been told
I’d have to earn my way
No one in their right mind
would give it all away

Yet the contract says, whosoever will,
that has to include me
It says it is a gift from God
and it’s absolutely free

Now I’ve accepted his free gift
and my life has changed, no doubt
I cannot work salvation in
but I certainly can work it out

There’s someone who is at your door
with his contract for you today
Will you accept his free gift
or send him on his way?

But God found fault with the
people and said: “The time is
coming, declares the Lord, when
I will make a new covenant with
the house of Israel and with the
house of Judah.

Hebrews 8:8

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