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Archive for the category “An Interrupted Life”

Accident Forgiveness

“What the he_ _ were you thinking?”  It was the man who had just hit my car in the passenger door.  There were two other people in his car that were unhurt.  He had bounded out of his car quickly to give me his message.  “You are in big trouble!”, he stated.  I tried to apologize but he was hearing none of it.  “You are in big trouble!”, he repeated.  I tried to approach him but one of his passengers told me I had better just stay where I was.  It was an unspoken threat that the driver had a temper and might attack me if I came closer.  All of a sudden the driver as if on Que grabbed his neck.  “Oh my neck”, he hollered for everyone there to hear.

I was so shook up I couldn’t hardly think.  The glaring question he had asked was still ringing in my head.  “What the He_ _  was I thinking?”  Then the answer came to me.  I was thinking the road was clear.  I was not able to see.  I had made the best decision I could under the circumstances.  I was not a complete moron trying to kill myself like the driver obviously believed.

It was a normal morning in every way that day.  I got up and did all my normal morning routines before work.  Even the beginning drive was perfectly normal.  The only thing different was the bright sunshine.  I questioned in my mind going back to get sunglasses but dismissed the thought as time consuming.  Pulling onto the main road the sun was so blinding it was hard to see.  Normally I just travel a little ways on the main road and then cut through a neighborhood to the left as a short cut. This day’s plan would follow the same logic.  The sun was still blinding me as I eased into the turning lane.  It was so bright that I could hardly see in front of me.  Looking back I wish I would have thought twice about taking the short cut.  Blindly I eased into the turn lane.

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Like I had done thousands of times before I looked to see the on coming traffic.  With the blinding light in my eyes I made the decision that the way was clear.  I started my turn and right away I knew it was a mistake.  A horn sounded and squealing brakes let me know I wasn’t safe.  Then I heard the crash.  It was a loud thud and I found myself getting thrown to the other side of the car.  Even with my seat belt on it was quite a jar.  The first thing I noticed was the wind shield shattering and glass from the passenger side window flying at me.  I also was pushed unmercifully into the steering wheel.  My car which was hit in the intersection ended up on the other side of the road I was turning on against the curb.  A quick assessment of my body told me that I was shook up but not seriously hurt.

As I was waiting there beside my car I heard sirens as emergency vehicles were heading our way.  Someone walked up beside me and tapped me on the shoulder.  It was my neighbor from across the street who had mercifully stopped to see if I was alright.  He offered his phone for my use and I took hm up on it since my phone was not recharged.  I called my work and my wife and then talked to the policeman who showed up.  The ambulance driver wanted to know if I needed attention.  I thought I was OK but had him check my ribs since they were a little sore from the impact into the steering wheel.  It was determined that there was nothing broken.  The tow truck came and took my car away.  The ambulance took the other driver to the hospital as he was quick to jump on the cot.  The policeman gave me the ticket and explained what I could do if I wanted to dispute it.  He took control of the situation and was very professional and friendly.

My wife picked me up and took me home.  There was glass inside my shoes, in my pants, in my shirt, everywhere there was little pieces of glass.  I called my pastor and told him what happened.  He asked me if I had forgiven myself?   I told him with tears in my eyes that I did.  He prayed for me and the situation.  I am so thankful that there are people that really care about me.  He told me that this morning when he woke up he felt in his spirit that something just wasn’t quite right.  Just the night before in our Bible study on 1- John we talked about forgiving ourselves. We know that God will forgive if we ask but the hardest thing it seems is to forgive ourselves. I can truly tell you that the more we re-live moments in our lives the more we are apt to put the blame on ourselves. My message to you is not to do this.  It is the work of the enemy to bring you down so don’t let him.  It was comforting talking to my pastor and feeling a peace about the whole situation that everything would be alright.

My son came by and the three of us went to where my car was.  It was decided that my car was beyond repair and our job was to clear everything out of it.  The fact that I had accumulated many things in the trunk made it a harder job, but with the three of us we recovered what we could and threw the rest away.  Re-visiting the car was a sad and glad experience.  Seeing it in such a bad condition hurt me but also made me realize how lucky I was.  That car was a symbol of Jesus to me.  It didn’t deserve to be broken but through that brokenness it had protected me.  Now I am alive because it took the punishment instead of me.

The next few days would be filled with trying to find another car and salvaging the old car.  We went to a car dealer and they could sense that we wanted to buy something quickly.  They asked for our price range and naturally gravitated to the upper end of what we were willing to pay.  We test drove one of their cars and when we brought it back the squeeze play was on.  The original lady had introduced us to her manager and now they were working as a team.  We just didn’t feel right about the car and wanted to see more.  Unfortunately the one we were shown was the only one in our price range and they were determined to see us buy it.  The more they put the pressure on the more it just didn’t feel like the car that we were supposed to buy.  I have learned that in everything it is a good idea to pray.  Pray that we are doing what is best in God’s eyes.  When we live by faith we’ve found that the right decisions are made because we are not leaning on our own understanding.  Proverbs 3:5-6 states to “Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.”

A few days later we drove out of town to look at a car that was similar to my last one.  Although the mileage was great the car’s body was a disappointment.  Finally we test drove another car and it just felt right!  We had prayed for God’s guidance and he seemed to be giving it to us!  We liked everything about the car and ended up buying it!  Step one was complete and now we turned our attention to step two.  That would be salvaging the old car.

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I spent a lot of time calling different junk yards and the like.  I was very disappointed in the offers I was getting.  Finally I got a hold of one that was a national company.  Their price far exceeded anything I was offered and I agreed to sell it to them.  We set a date and time that they would meet me and complete the deal.  The man showed up with his tow truck to take the car away.  We started a friendly conversation and I asked him a question that I never would have asked had it not been for the Soul Winning class we had recently went through.  The man was named Kevin and I asked him if he had ever considered becoming a Christian.  He dismissed it right off the bat although he mentioned that a good friend had been talking to him about it.  I asked him if he would mind if I prayed with him and he seemed doubtful.  A minute later he turned to me and said “OK, after I get this car loaded I will pray with you!”  The three of us held hands and I had him repeat the sinners prayer after me.  It was an amazing thing standing in a parking lot sharing the Lord and realizing that God was entering into another life!

Going back to our car I had a tremendous feeling of peace.  I was amazed at what had just happened.  I shook my head in amazement and thought a wonderful thought.  “Lord there you go again!  You’ve used something that seemed bad and made it into something very good!  You have brought someone that I never would have met into my life and into your kingdom!  This whole experience reinforced something that is so real to me.  If we let go and let God he will do amazing things in our lives.  He will take whatever the situation we are going through and use it for his glory!  I am reminded of that scripture in I Thessalonians 5:18.  It states “Be thankful in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  Another scripture that comes to mind is Romans 8:28. 28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[a] have been called according to his purpose.  Lord, thank you for my accident. Thank you that Kevin came to know you as his personal savior!  I am humbled by your perfect plan for our lives even when our world seems to be crashing.  Thank you for always loving me!

There is a footnote to this story.  Recently I did go before a judge like the policeman offered.  I was hoping that he would show compassion on me in light of the situation.  It was kind of intimidating standing there telling my side of the story.  I can humbly tell you that he did show compassion.   It reminded me of how our loving God has mercy for all of us.  We have all made mistakes and God is quick to forgive if we just ask.  So let me offer this prayer on your behalf.  Lord, whatever my reader is going through in their life let them know that you are with them.  You are there to protect them and make everything work out for good.  Let them know that after their world seems to be crashing all around them there is hope, love, and compassion because you love them.  Give them peace and victory because you offer them accident forgiveness.

 

 

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It Is Well

 

When I went to church as a teenager they didn’t have the rock sounding music that so many churches offer today.  I remember one Sunday night the song leader talked specifically to the youth section.  “Tonight we are going to sing only rock songs”, he offered.  Of course we were looking forward to a change of beat from the usual hymns.  What followed was the hymns, (Rock of Ages), (Jesus Is The Rock of My Salvation), (The Solid Rock), and other “rock songs.”  One of the hymns I remember us singing back then was called (It is Well With My Soul).  I remember it especially because it was a song that had an echo in it.  The main words would go (It is well) with some of the people doing that part while a few other ones echoed the phrase (It is well) in another key.  The same echo was done with the words (With my Soul).  Anyway it was a memorable song and seemed to be about a person happy in life because they had the spirit of God in their soul!  Maybe this was a person that everything went right for and God seemed to bless at every step.  We’ve all seen those people that in our eyes everything seems to to be perfect.  They have the perfect family, have the perfect job, the nicest things, and it seems the sun is always shining on them.  Sure they can sing “It is Well With My Soul.”  For those people everything always goes right.

Horatio G. Spafford lived in the 1800’s.  He was a very successful Lawyer and Businessman.  He lived in Chicago Illinois with his wife Anna and their five children, 4 daughters and a son.    In 1871 tragedy hit the family as their son fell victim to pneumonia and that same year much of their business was destroyed by the great Chicago fire.  With trusting hearts they carried on and God had mercy on them as their business started to prosper again.  Their faith was a big part of their lives and by 1873 things were looking up.  All six of them made plans to take an ocean liner overseas for a family vacation in Europe.  Horatio was all ready to accompany his family when out of the blue an urgent business matter came up.  It would take several meetings and Horatio was forced to delay his trip.  He urged his wife and children to start on without him and he promised to meet up with them a few days later (taking another ship).

Anna and her four daughters boarded the ship along with 308 other passengers and crew.  The French ocean liner was called the “Ville du Havre” and it was a big impressive ship.  It was 421 feet long and weight 395 tons!  Four days into their journey through heavy fog the unexpected happened.  A huge iron-hulled Scottish ship called the Loch Earn collided with their ship.  Without warning all of the passengers were in great danger.  Anna ran up to the deck and met with her daughters.  They all knelt together and prayed that God would spare their lives but if not that they would be able to endure whatever awaited them.  Tragically 226 passengers and crew from the ship parrished that night including Horatio’s four daughters.  A woman was seen clinging to ship wreckage by a sailor in a small boat.  It was Anna and she was alive.  She was rescued to another liner and nine days later a wire was received by Horatio.  The message was brief but to the point “Saved alone, what shall I do?”  Hurriedly Horatio boarded the next liner and headed off to meet his grieving wife.

About four days into the trip the captain called Horatio and told him they were now directly over the area where the tragedy occurred.  The Holy Spirit must have been guiding Horatio’s thoughts as he wrote the now famous lyrics on that ship amidst his grief and pain in the most heartbreaking time of his life “It is Well With My Soul.”  You see in every ship that has sank there was the same cause.  There may have been different ways that it occurred but the diagnosis has always been the same.  More water was getting in than was staying out.  When the ships got weighted down they sank.  Horatio was determined with God’s help to keep his ship afloat.  He didn’t get into the blame game where the weight of the tragedy could get inside of him.  Instead he chose to keep all of that on the outside.  He showed us how we need to live our lives by the example he left.  Though the storms were raging on the outside he refused to let any of that disturb the peace that was on his inside.  These beautiful words that Horatio wrote with the waves badgering his ship have blessed many hearts and lives through the years!

When peace like a river attendeth my way,

When sorrows like sea billows roll,

Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,

It is well, it is well with my soul.

Chorus:

It is well with my soul,

It is well, it is well with my soul

The Lost And Found

Nikki was a tall skinny old dog on that fateful day.  He was an eleven year old Siberian Husky who had a pretty easy life.  It consisted of going from his pen to the house, sleeping a lot, eating, catching his ring or ball, and like most dogs begging for food. He would sit there if I was eating something he wanted, (which was everything) and attempt to do his favorite trick.  That trick was shaking hands.  So Nikki would attempt the paw shake even if it wasn’t asked for to try to please and get the treat. Once in awhile we would take Nikki for a walk.  He got all excited and started barking and whining uncontrollably at the very sight of his leash in our hands.  It could not be argued what a good life he had through the years, but one day Nikki wandered away.

At first we didn’t realize that Nikki was gone.  He spent a lot of time in his pen outside.  If he wanted to come in he would whine at the door after walking through the garage that the pen was connected to.  I don’t remember how he got out.  Perhaps the garage door was accidentally left open.  Perhaps his gate door was ajar.  However it happened Nikki was gone.  It was a Sunday in the middle of the summer that we discovered him missing.  I’m sure he enjoyed his freedom.  Even on the walks we took him on he was confined by that leash.  Now he could wander wherever he wanted with nobody pulling on his neck to come back.  I’m sure it was fun for awhile.  Going to places he only dreamed about and all of the scents that dogs invariably smell.  Perhaps other dogs barked as they realized that this big dog was free and they were trapped in their house or yard.  That’s the envy of the other dogs looking out I’m sure.  Barking to threaten the straying dog to get out of their territory, yet realizing that there is nothing they can do about it.

The hours passed and still no Nikki.  This had never happened before and we didn’t know what to do.  We drove around and looked.  With the window down we called out his name “Nikki, Nikki’, but there was no response.  It was getting dark and we were worried.  Our street is not a busy one but the road connected to it is.  If he had wandered into that busy road he could have been hit.  There were many directions he could have gone.  He could have headed west which would have him walking along the busy street.  He could have crossed the busy street and found his way to Parkview Hills which is a Condominium Community.  He could have wandered east and either kept going on the busy road or cut off north into the Winchell neighborhood.  Not knowing where to look we drove all over and kept an eye on the side of the road in case the ultimate tragedy had occurred.

Reluctantly we gave up the search for the night.  It was dark and we had traveled down all of the paths we could think of.  Once again we were devastated when he wasn’t home to greet us when we got back.  We couldn’t think of anything else to do but wait.  Maybe he would show up during the night.  The fear thoughts kept entering our minds.  Maybe he was lying by the side of the road hurt and couldn’t make it home.  Maybe Nikki would never come home again.  Sadly we were trying to prepare for the worst.

I remember back in elementary school.  When something got lost they had a lost and found in the principal’s office.  There were times I came home without a glove or something.  My mom would encourage me to go to the lost and found.  In the office was a big box.  It seemed like hundreds of gloves, hats, and scarves were there.  Also in the mix was my lost glove.  It would have been nice if it were that easy to get Nikki back.  I do remember as a kid we had a dog named Happy.  Happy found himself in the dog pound many times after getting caught wandering away from our house by the dog catcher.  My sister would be crying and dad reluctantly would go and pay the fine to get him back.  Dad always said “I should have just left him in there”, but deep down I know he wanted him back too.

There is a story in the Bible that resembles Nikki’s situation.  It is the story of the prodigal son.  One day the younger son decided that he wanted to see what life was like without being under his father’s rule.  He would taste the fun stuff that he wasn’t allowed to experience.  He asked and was granted his inheritance which allowed him to go out on his own and eat, drink, and be merry.  All went well for the prodigal son until his money ran out. Suddenly he found that when the money was gone so were his so called friends.  He was left to make his own way working in a field with someone’s pigs.  At that point he came to his senses and made his way home.  He would tell his father he was not worthy to be his son anymore and ask for a job in his field.  His father had other ideas when he saw him coming.  He was restored as his son and his father held a big party for him!  Unfortunately Nikki didn’t wander home that night.  If he did like the prodigal son we would have celebrated.  Perhaps we would have bought him a special treat!  Those thoughts seemed like only dreams as the hours passed.

The next morning I didn’t go to work.  I called and told them that I was going to be late.  I mentioned that our dog was missing and I would be in if and when I found him.  Driving around in my Camaro with the window down I kept yelling for Nikki.  Once again there was no response.  I did happen to pass people on the way who were out walking.  With everyone I passed I described our missing dog and left our phone number.  That morning I drove all over leaving our number to anyone that I saw.  It was extremely hot as the temperatures that day hovered between 90 and 100 degrees.  If Nikki were alive the heat alone might be enough to be his end.  Totally dejected and very hot myself I went back home to rest and consider my next move.

Perhaps you are in a place right now like Nikki and the prodigal son were.  Perhaps the grass looked greener on the other side and you left God to find those greener pastures.  Maybe you found out like they did that the world is a harsh place.  Maybe the curiosity has gotten old and you have discovered like they did that what you ran away from was love.  Sometimes when we reach our lowest point we discover things about who we are and what we need to do.  Know that God loves you and is calling you to come home much like we were calling for Nikki.

As I was resting at home from the torturous heat the phone rang.  The lady on the other end told me that she thought she found my dog.  She gave me directions in the Winchell Neighborhood where she had seen a dog that matched my description.  Hurriedly I jumped in the car and took off to the destination about a mile away.  From a distance I saw him in the front yard of a house.  A lady was out there with him and she had provided him with a big bowl of water.  As I think about her  kind deed  it was like the Bible verses in Matthew Chapter 25 within the verses of 35-40. “When I was hungry you fed me and when I was thirsty you gave me something to drink.  Later the righteous ones asked when they did those things and he answered “when you did it to the least of these you did it onto me.”

Nikki didn’t see me at first.  He had his head in that bowl and he was drinking like there was no tomorrow.  I pulled up, jumped out of my car and called his name.  He took his head out of the water dish long enough to look at me.  He looked ragged and confused.  I could tell from his look that he hardly recognized me.  The lady wondered if this was my dog and I told her yes and briefly explained what happened.  Nikki still seemed in a daze but I coaxed him into the back of my car.
It took a few days to recover but Nikki slowly came back to himself.  There was a day a short time later that we  accidentally left the garage door opened.  Fearfully we looked in his pen only to find Nikki laying on the cold cement content with life and with no desire to wander away.  Nikki lived for three more years and never ran away again.

Victory Beyond The Old One Two

He was an angry man.  Had he won that fight he would have forced Mohammad Ali to fight him again and he could get his title back.  George Foreman didn’t call it the Heavyweight Title, he called it his title.  The year was 1977 and George Foreman had been on the comeback trail.  He had won five consecutive fights and that night he fought a man named Jimmy Young.  George had a devastating punch.  Usually his fights would end with his opponent on the canvas.  This fight would be different.  Jimmy Young lasted the whole fight.  When the decision was read it was Young who had his glove raised.  George was crushed as he walked around in the steamy hot dressing room.  He had heard that after a match you should never sit down.  He paced back and forth and felt weakness in his legs.  “I feel like I’m going to”, and before he could say die he passed out.

George Foreman at a joyless time in his life.

George Foreman was born in Marshall Texas in 1949 and grew up in Houston’s rough Fifth Ward District.  Looking back he called himself a thug as he dropped out of school in the ninth grade, and ran the streets.  In 1965 he joined the Jobs Corps and that decision changed the direction of his life.  At the age of 16 the Jobs Corps provided him with a connection to the boxing world.  It was in a trainer named Doc Broaddus.  Doc encouraged George to apply his fighting skills to the ring instead of the streets.

George developed quickly as a boxer.  He had a mean streak that seemed to help him when he got his opponent in trouble.  He was always able to summon the old one two at just the right time.  He made the 1968 Olympic team and after winning the gold medal he made headlines waiving a little American flag.  This was the Olympic games where two African American runners raised clinched fists wearing black gloves in tribute to black power.  In contrast George’s waiving of the American flag made the statement that he was proud of the country he represented.
After the Olympics George turned pro.  There was much learning to do but he rose in the ranks with each success.  George was 6 feet 3 1/2 inches and 218 pounds of raw muscle.  He was feared by everyone he fought because of his ability to pound his opponents unmercifully to the canvas. He won his first 37 professional fights which earned him a shot at the heavyweight champion “Smokin” Joe Frazier.  It was 1973 and George was a heavy underdog.   The fight was held January 22, 1973, in Kingston Jamaica.  Shockingly George knocked  Joe Frazier down six times in the two round fight.  Finally the referee stopped the bout and George’s glove was raised in victory.
The next two fights were more of the same for George.  He knocked out Jose (King) Roman in one round and Kenny Norton in two rounds.  He was on top of the boxing world and didn’t think he could be beaten.  Gladly he accepted the challenge of Mohammad Ali.  Ali had been the heavyweight champion before being stripped of his title for refusing to go into the army.  He was finally reinstated to boxing after 3 and a half years and lost his attempt to regain the title from Joe Frazier in 1971.  Now it was 1974 and George didn’t think he could possibly lose.  After all he was destroying everyone in his path in one or two rounds.The bout was held in Zaire South Africa and was billed “The Rumble In The Jungle”.  George came out strong like he always did.  Charging and bulling his way in he continuously got Ali on the ropes.  Ali was different than any opponent he had ever faced however.  When George hit Ali with his best shots Ali would talk to George.  “Is that all you got George?”, he repeated over and over.  George continued to be the aggressor but Ali kept George off balance with his speedy jabs later in the rounds.  Ali started laying on the ropes and inviting George to come and take his best shots.  George did not hesitate and once again he kept hearing Ali talking.  “Is that all you got George?”  In his head George had the thought that wouldn’t go away.  “Yep that’s about it.”  It was a close fight but by the 8th round George was spent.  He wasn’t used to going more than two rounds in his bouts and here Ali was still strong as the 8th round was coming to a close.  Suddenly Ali hit George with a punch to the back of the head and with lightning speed he hit him two more times.  George felt himself dropping to the mat and realized the referee was counting him out.  At the count of 9 George was on his feet but the referee stopped the fight and declared Ali the winner by knockout.It was an embarrassing loss to George and it took him awhile before he laced the gloves up again.  He was bitter at Ali and bitter at a lot of people that he felt did him wrong.  His anger was so deep that he couldn’t figure out a way to hurt all of the people that were burning in his heart.  He took his anger out on his opponents and after not fighting at all in 1975 he had four bouts in 1976 winning all of them in short order.  By 1977 George was being talked about again for another title shot.  Ali had been able to keep the title that he won from George.  George was matched against Pedro Agosto in January of 1977 and won by a first round knockout.  The fight with Jimmy Young was made and George felt that it would be the warmup he needed
before facing Ali again.Jimmy Young was a fighter much like Ali.  He was a very good defensive fighter who had quick hands.  George plowed in determined to hit Jimmy Young with the hay maker that would stop the fight.  Jimmy was able to block George’s attempts again and again and jab his head with a pestering left.  Round after round the same thing happened.  George charging in only to get sent away by Jimmy’s quick hands.  In the 7th round something different happened.  George plowed in as usual but this time he connected.  Jimmy was hurt and staggered to the other side of the ring.  George was right after him determined to put Jimmy on the canvas for good.  Somehow in his hurt condition Jimmy was able to block and duck most of George’s attempts.  George was always able to finish off an opponent when he had them hurt.  He could always count on the old one two, but this time victory would not come.  Adding to his frustration the fans started chanting loudly “Jimmy Young, Jimmy Young.”  George wondered why the fans wouldn’t chant for him?  Jimmy recovered and for the rest of the fight was able to pile up points as George punched a lot of air.
When George was on that dressing room floor he had an encounter like never before.  He felt like he was in this empty place and that the Lord spoke to him.  The Lord said, “I don’t want your money, I want you.”  When he came to he was shouting “Jesus Christ is alive in me”.  George retired at the age of 27 and went into ministry full time.  He formed an independent church and lived each day for the Lord.  All of the bitterness that he had kept inside started to go away.  His heart was full of love as he forgave Ali and everyone else that had been on his hate list.

In 1987 George had a desire in his heart.  He had ballooned up to 315 pounds but the unmistakable desire was there.  He decided to get back into boxing.  He was old now in boxing terms at 38.  Yet it was almost like God had given him the desire to complete the work he had started.  George started winning boxing matches again.  He was big and slow but he still packed a wallop.  George trained hard and got his weight down to 250.  Although he wasn’t the fighter he was he became very popular wherever he fought.  In a drastic switch George was the fan favorite.  Because of his popularity fans wanted to see George fight for the heavyweight title.  Evander Holyfield had the title and gave George a fight.  George fought gallantly but it wasn’t to be.  Evander kept his title that night. 
George persevered however and kept fighting.  At the age of 45 he was given another chance.  The boxing world scoffed at George.  He doesn’t deserve a chance they thought.  Michael Moorer was the Heavyweight champion.  He was a week short of his 27th birthday while George was 45.  It looked like an easy payday for Moorer as he was much quicker than the slow moving Foreman.  The bout played out that way too.  Through the first nine rounds Moore was able to use his speed to beat George consistently to the punch.  He was winning handily on all cards as the 10th round started.  Then out of the blue George connected and connected again.  Michael Moorer went down and was counted out.  George walked slowly back to his corner and landed on his knees.  In front of the whole boxing world he was giving thanks to his God for completing a chapter in his destiny!When you see George Foreman today there is always a smile on his face.  There is joy in his heart where there used to be hate.  It is hard to believe he is the same person.  He has been very successful in business after leaving the ring.  He has been a spokesman for the George Foreman grill for years.  You have seen him no doubt on commercials and his joy is contagious.  He made 200 million dollars from Salton Inc. to use his name to promote the grill.  That was substantially more than he ever made in boxing.  In looking back George is quick to acknowledge that his defeats were the best things to ever happen to him.  “I needed to suffer those defeats so I could hit  bottom and look up”, George stated.    He also adds some advice that we all can use.  “Just take one step at a time, trusting that God still has a plan for you, and he will make the best of your situation.”

Electric Wheels Find A Purple Heart

Corporal Robert Thrailkill, Jr. should not be alive today.  Six years ago at the young age of 19 Robert was deployed in Afghanistan clearing improvised explosive devices from a secured compound when the accident occurred.  Stepping on an IED that was hidden in a mound of dirt Robert was thrown backwards and found himself on his back.  He knew it was serious when he was unable to move his legs.  The first miracle was the fact that Robert could analyze the situation at all.  You see Robert had an array of explosives on his person and they should have went off from the explosion.  Later the conclusion was made that Robert’s last step to his left instead of his right made the difference.  Had he stepped to his right Robert would have been in eternity without God.  It was years later when he saw the light, but God already was saving him for the future.

After the explosion Robert was flown to a hospital where he stayed for a month.  His legs were amputated from the knees down and he was transported to a rehab hospital where he would stay the next two years.  Robert was given the purple heart for his sacrifice for his country.  He worked hard at his rehab and at long last it was time for him to go home and enter the every day world he had left when he was whole.

When Robert got back to civilian life things were not the same.  Living in Caledonia Michigan in an apartment he not only had to get used to his prosthetic legs, but he had to deal with every day things such as showering or getting around his apartment.  It was difficult for Robert to just do the simple things.  Fortunately a group called Homes for Our Troops stepped in.  A home was built for Robert which has wider doorways, pull down shelves, roll in showers, and other adjustments that fit Robert’s needs.  “When I was injured”, Robert expressed at the site of his future home, “I told my family that I was not going to let my injuries define me as a person.”  “But some things made it harder.”  The new house made things so much better for Robert to live normally in but there was still something missing in his life.

Alexis his new wife is a Christian and was able to lead Robert to a place of repentance and acceptance of Jesus into his life!  From that time on Robert was content.  It was like God dismantled his old thought process and gave him real meaning in life.  He was happy with his growing family and the things that he had.  He was grateful for the love that others had shown for him.  There was one thing that he never asked for but he and his wife had agreed would make things much easier.  You see Robert had an electric wheelchair while he was rehabbing but there was no way for him to get  it from Washington DC to his home.  Even if he had a way, that benefit had been taken away due to budget cuts.

I’ve often told people that I let God direct where these stories come from.  They come in all different ways and I never have to worry about what to write about.  That was the case of the story you are reading.  Two weeks ago I was standing in a long line to an event.  I happened to be behind a lady named Nancy and we started talking.  I told Nancy that I write Christian stories and gave her my website card.    Later when I was in conversation with a friend of hers, Nancy told her side of this story to my family.  My wife mentioned to me that I should hear the story and I had Nancy write her number down on the back of one of my cards so I could call her and get the details.  By mistake I accidentally gave the card to someone who was interested in reading my stories.   Amazingly Nancy found my number and contacted me.  She had felt that our meeting was no coincidence.  When I heard her story I had to agree.

Nancy had a friend that had an electric wheelchair.  It was originally bought for her husband but he wasn’t using it.  Her friend asked Nancy if there was someone she knew who would buy it for $600?  The chair was worth far more than this amount but her friend just wanted it to be a blessing to someone in need.  When Nancy was hesitant her friend asked her if she knew anyone that would pay $300 for the chair?  Nancy didn’t hesitate “I’ll buy it from you for $300”, she exclaimed.  Nancy had to take the money out of her retirement but she felt in her heart that it was the right thing to do.  Although Nancy had two successful knee replacement surgeries she told me she only used the chair once.  She had to go to an event and at the time she needed the chair to get around.  After that the chair sat at her house untouched.  Nancy’s knees were getting stronger and she was able to walk so she didn’t need a wheelchair. Still in her heart she felt something deep within.  She felt that someone could and should be using that wheelchair but who?

Nancy was eating at a restaurant one morning when she bit into a metal object.  She was in enormous pain as her tooth was severely damaged.  She needed a dentist appointment right away and frantically started calling offices that were listed in the phone book.  Fortunately she found a dentist with an opening but she would have to wait until the early afternoon.  Nancy was disappointed that she couldn’t get in earlier because of her pain.  She suffered through the morning and finally her appointment time came.

When Nancy walked into the dentist office sitting in the waiting room was none other than Robert and Alexis.  Right away Nancy noticed Robert’s manual wheel chair with the purple heart emblem on it.  Nancy asked Robert (who had a dentist appointment too that day) why he didn’t have an electric wheelchair?  Finding out that they couldn’t have one because of the new rules and their lack of ability to bring one home, Nancy gave Robert and Alexis her number.  Days passed and Nancy hadn’t heard from Robert and Alexis.  One day she got a call and it was them.  “Do you still have that wheelchair and is it still for sale?”, they wanted to know.  “Yes it is still available”, Nancy said and I’m selling it for $300 which is the amount I paid for it.  They bought that wheelchair from Nancy and she delivered it to their house in Belding, Michigan.  The reason they had not called sooner was explained.  Robert and Alexis were involved in an automobile accident and Robert had injured one of his partial legs.  The injury made it more of a reason to secure the electric wheelchair.  When I asked Alexis if they had prayed for an electric wheelchair her answer surprised me.  “No”, she said, “We were content with what we had.”  She admitted that they thought that it would be nice for Robert to be able to get around more with his growing family.  Still they didn’t consider it a necessity.

This past Sunday I heard a sermon that seemed to fit Robert and Alexis situation.  The theme that I remember most about the sermon is the fact that God is on our side!  He is our helper!  I’m reminded of the fact that God knows our needs before we do.  Romans 8:28 states that “All things work together for good for those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  I am convinced that because Robert and Alexis were content and happy with what they had and their love for God he interceded.  Because he knows our needs we don’t have to be begging God for things.  He knows the desires of our heart and he blesses us when we seek him first.

I found it ironic that Nancy said I would probably talk to Alexis when I called.  Robert has been out hunting.  Yes, he is putting that new electric wheelchair to good use doing something that he loves and enjoying the blessings that God has bestowed upon him. In this Thanksgiving season we should always remember that God loves us very much!  He desires to bless his children who put him first in their lives.  I’m reminded by this story that God wants to meet our needs and will use other people in wonderful ways to accomplish his desire!  He creates circumstances that lead to his blessing coming to pass in our lives! Nancy told me she was just happy to have a part in the story, Robert and Alexis are thrilled with their new electric wheelchair, and I am thankful this Thanksgiving that God had a plan to use me to share this story with you!

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Take It!

Yogi Berra was quoted as saying “If you come to the fork in the road take it.”  Actually this made perfect sense as Yogi was giving directions to his house in New Jersey.  The road to his house was interrupted by a blockage and two different roads seemingly going in different directions.  Each road however circled back to Yogi’s house so if you got to the fork you couldn’t go wrong.  Unfortunately the forks in our life roads go in opposite directions and the destinations are completely different.

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It was just a few short weeks ago.  Earl Robinette was contacted by the Detroit Tigers.  They wanted him to come in and sign a contract.  His son had contacted the Tigers office and told them the story that Earl had been living with for years.  You see Earl is 80 years old.  The contract that he was given to sign was a nice gesture by the Tigers.  It was a one day contract to symbolically relive a time in his life years ago.  It was a fork in his road that appeared in 1954 and he has lived with the decision all of these years.  “What would have happened if I had signed that contract?”, he must have asked himself over and over.  “How would that decision have affected my life and where would I be now?”

In 1954 Earl Robinette was 19 years old.  He was the oldest of 6 children and he had responsibilities.  That day he was out about a quarter of a mile from his farm house using a horse to cultivate a cornfield.  It had rained and he wasn’t able to get the tractor in the area.  He saw his father frantically waiving a white towel for him to come to the house.  Earl rode the horse in and his brothers gave him a clean shirt and hosed him down because he was filthy.  When he entered the house to his surprise there were 3 Detroit Tigers executives there to meet him.  They had discovered Earl at a tryout camp in Mount Pleasant, Michigan which is just south of his hometown of Clare County.  Earl was a switch hitting outfielder with a strong arm and apparently the Tigers felt he had a great baseball future!  According to Earl there was a contract laid out in front of him which included a $28,000 signing bonus.  Earl was pleased to know that these executive experts had considered him worthy of such a contract and was ready to sign the deal.  He looked to his parents for final approval before he took the leap but they just sat there.  He never could figure out why they didn’t respond.  Maybe they thought they were looking out for Earl’s best interest.  Maybe they didn’t think much of the life of a baseball player.  Whatever the reason they just sat there until the executives decided that it wasn’t going to happen and picked up their contract and left.

After signing a one day contract with the Detroit Tigers

So Earl now 80 walked down the long hall way at Comerica Park.  The walls were covered with Tiger players from the past.  Maybe if things had worked out differently Earl’s picture would be right there with them.  Of course it wasn’t and there was nothing he could do about that now.  Earl was seated at a table that signings regularly took place.  Most of the big names on the team had signed their contracts right on that same table.  This contract was specially made for Earl and he didn’t hesitate to sign it!  He was given a Tiger jersey and a hat.  It was a time of reflection Had he signed, Earl summed up that he never would have met his wife and had the happy family that he ended up with.  Had the signing taken place it is anyone’s guess where he would have ended up.  It’s one of life’s mysteries that we all go through in one way or another based on decisions that we make.

Jesus too has a contract waiting for us to sign.  There isn’t a mystery as far as where the decision to follow Christ takes us.  It leads to a heavenly home and eternal life with him!  There won’t be a man made hall with pictures to remember.  In God’s hall of fame faces shine forever and ever and never grow old!  Unlike the contract from the Tigers Jesus keeps his contract on the table.  You may be older now and regret the fact that you haven’t signed his contract yet.  Know that it isn’t too late.  Jesus is still waiting with his pen in hand. Like the directions to Yogi’s house whether you are 19 or 80 the destination after taking God’s road ends at the same place!

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

 

 

 

Someone’s Knocking At The Door

Very rarely does someone knock on our door anymore.  Back in the day especially growing up when someone knocked on the door it was with excitement that we answered it.  Who could it be?  Opening the door we were surprised to see my Aunt Ethel, Aunt Lucy, or our old friend Margaret (who was in her 80’s but got around like a 20 year old.)  Their visits were always fun and made our day a little better!  Of course it was like the old TV show “Let’s Make A Deal” too.  The person behind the door wasn’t always a loved one.  Sometimes the Jehovah’s Witnesses or the Fuller Brush Man would be there.  In other words sometimes we got zonked when we opened the door.  A zonk on Let’s Make a Deal was when the curtain or door was opened and behind it was something nobody could want.  Still we took our chances with the door in hopes that behind it was a nice surprising visitor!

These days when someone is knocking at the door it is almost always a zonk.  If they suspect that someone is home they start pounding louder if there is no reaction to their initial knock.  When I do answer the door I find myself barely having my head sticking through the opened door as the rest of me hides behind it.  I use the door as kind of a shield.  It protects me from the person trying to sell me something I don’t want.  The person tries to get me more comfortable with them but that door block is hard to negotiate around.  I try to be polite as they make their sales pitch.  The knocking is an interruption to my life.  I don’t think I have ever made a major purchase from someone going door to door.  Occasionally I will take their card as they tell me to call them if I am interested.  It is a polite way to end the visit without seeming rude.  Finally I close the door on the product that I can’t live without.

I guess that is the problem with door to door sales in my view.  Before opening the door I have already made up my mind that I’m not interested.  Having to overcome that is almost always too heavy of a burden for them.  Getting past that trust factor and into my pocketbook is a monumental task.  If they really have a product that I just can’t live without, how have I been able to live without it all of these years?  If I truly wanted to fix a problem I’m more apt to buy a product from a local store where I could always take it back.

I have a very basic cell phone where I can make and receive calls and text messages.  Lately I have been seeing an ad on TV about buying an application for a smart phone.  If I had a smart phone I don’t think I’d be interested in this app.  It is a doorbell app that lets you answer your front door wherever you are.  You could be on vacation in Hawaii and answer your front door. You actually see the person at the door from your phone and you can talk and listen to them. Of course in the commercial it is guys up to no good thinking that you are not home.  The commercial ends with the two would be burglars running from the front door after the brief conversation.  This product is trying to take advantage of the defensive attitude we have today when someone knocks at our door.  I have never had someone try to get into my house while I was pretending nobody was home.  If this product is so necessary, why hasn’t that happened before?  I guess it is  like an extra insurance policy that makes us less fearful and more at ease.

We don’t get surprises from our telephone these days either.  They used to have a radio station back in the day that would make phone calls for prizes.  You had to answer the phone saying “I listen to WYYY”, to win.  It was a genius way to advertise!  I used to laugh when I called my best friend only to have his mom answer the phone with that statement instead of the traditional hello.  I’m sure she never won any prizes but she should have been paid for all of the advertising she did for the station! Now days that marketing scheme would never work as we pick and choose who we want to talk to by using Caller ID.  Come to think about it we used to receive more calls from friends back in the day.  With the advent of Facebook and the use of email friends don’t call much anymore.  It is almost a dreaded sound when the phone rings these days  It seems to ring a lot but very rarely is it anyone that knows us.  These calls go to the answering machine and it is very likely that no message will be left.

The point I’m making is that we are not easily surprised anymore.  There is not a feeling of excitement like there used to be.  We are not willing to take the chance of going to the door or answering the phone because we already know who it is.  Instead of quickly opening the door we tend to peek unsuspectingly out another window of the house to see who it is.  Usually by the time we find out that the person at the door is a loved one we have to race to the door and catch them before they have driven off.  If Jesus is knocking on your heart’s door don’t be defensive.  He is like a surprising visit from a long lost friend.  Run and catch him before he leaves.  Invite him in and fellowship with him.  His offer is eternal life and you don’t want to shut the door on that!

What Does It Mean To Be Saved?

The song that we sing quite often in church goes like this…

What does it mean to be saved?
Is it more than just a prayer to pray?
More than just a way to heaven?
What does it mean to be his?
To be formed in his likeness
Know that we have a purpose

To be the salt and light in the world
To be the salt and light in the world

Chorus:
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so
Say so

This song asks some questions that makes me reflect after the recent trial that I went through.  The very fact that I am in this particular church singing that song is a miracle in itself.  Just before Christmas I got a real health scare.  I had discovered that there was blood where there wasn’t supposed to be blood.  Instead of seeing a doctor right off of the bat I tried home remedies.  I increased my water intake drastically.  Finally when that didn’t work I reluctantly went to a doctor.  I was expecting some kind of antibiotic and I did get that, but with a warning that he was pretty sure that wasn’t the problem.  When I pressed him on what the problem might be he mentioned cancer.  I was recommended to a specialist and put through two different scans. The medical procedures were spaced out in such a way that I had a lot of time to think.

Before the first scan I really felt the need to be prayed for.  Being able to call on my twitter friends helped but I also wanted some hands on prayer.  We have been between churches for a few years now and I didn’t have any group to call.  So I did the desperate act of calling churches.  It was a Saturday and the churches that I called were not answering their phone.  Finally I called one that seemed like a smaller congregation.  The phone started ringing and I said a silent prayer..”Lord, if this is the church that you want to pray for me please have them answer the phone.”

When Jeremy answered the phone saying hello, I thought that I possibly had dialed the wrong number.  I asked if this was the Four Square Church and he said it was.  I told him that I needed prayer and asked if his church would pray for me?  I also asked if they believed in miracles and what their general beliefs were?  He mentioned that they would be happy to pray for me and indeed he did believe in miracles and in fact he had miracles happen in his own life.  They didn’t have a church building I was told.  They were meeting at an elementary school.  The next morning we went to the church, which took place in the elementary schools cafeteria.  Jeremy told me that he would be the one with long dark hair.

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The next morning we arrived early for the 11 am service and there was Jeremy greeting us at the door.  When Jeremy mentioned his long hair on the phone I didn’t expect it to be so long.  His church was not the traditional church that I was accustomed to.  Yet as he talked to us I could feel that his spirit was very sweet and his compassion was right there.  He talked to us as a long lost friend and not the strangers that we were.  He mentioned that we would pray after the service.  The church number wasn’t big by any means, but I felt the spirit there as the singing began.  Jeremy is a musician who has recorded numerous CD’s and there was a wide variety of ages in his congregation but mostly young people 30 and under.  What was impressive was the number of young people that were helping with the music.  Jeremy led with his lead guitar and vocals but there was a piano player and many other guitars.  His father also chimed in with his horn in the back.

Jeremy has a style of sharing his messages quietly but hitting home.  His goal is not to condemn as much as it is to show the way.  He talked about the sower and the seeds that morning and things that keep us from growing spiritually.  After the service he called some of the church including his mother and father to pray for me.  After the prayer he told me what he felt in his heart.  He felt that everything was going to be alright and he quoted a scripture in Psalms 91:16 which states that “With long life I will satisfy him, and show him my salvation.”  I think it was the following week I told Jeremy after the service that I was healed!  As each week followed and through my medical tests I found comfort and fellowship with this new group of believers.

The morning I went for the scan something ironic happened.  Many times on my website I’ll look at the number of views.  I’ve found that the Lord speaks to me by those numbers whether it be the words in a story or the number of total views.  When I checked the number before we left it was sitting at 39.  The Bible specifically reads that by his stripes we are healed.  39 times he was flogged with a whip.  It was another sign to me that everything would be alright and I was feeling the peace of the Holy Spirit telling me the same.

Between Christmas and New years I had the first scan.  The actual scan was easy but the questions that I was asked were kind of scary.  Especially the one that went “Have you ever had cancer before?”  It left no doubt in my mind what they were looking for.  Patiently I waited for results.  The Universities Health Center was closed until after the new year and I didn’t get an answer until that first day.  A doctor filling in for the original doctor called on my lunch hour.  He was very positive when I talked to him.  Right away he said that my scan looked clean.  I debated whether I should go to the specialist they had set an appointment with and he thought I should.  With their equipment they could make sure nothing weird was going on.

I know it is obvious but it’s different when something is happening to you.  It’s easy to pray for someone else but when it is you there is a sense of urgency.  Also I found that I did think about life here without me.  I have always dreaded getting old and medical procedures.  However, I found that backbone that said I would be willing to go through whatever it took to be well.  I also decided that whatever happened I would give God the glory for it was for my good.

The specialist was the next person I had to see two or three weeks later.  These appointments have to be in their schedule so there is plenty of time to think and doubt.  Because of the scan results I was pretty positive everything was OK.  Yet in meeting with the specialist doubt came into play.  The original scan was somewhat discounted because it was done without dye.  The dye actually illuminates any problem that might be there.  The tests with the specialist seemed normal but the next scan and blood work would tell the story.   Once again more waiting and more time.  The day after the dye scan the specialist called.  I wasn’t expecting any results until the next week as we had an appointment scheduled.  The specialist reported that nothing was found and my blood was perfectly normal.  Two months of fearing for the worst was now over.

I met with a young student friend who has a passion for writing.  He liked my writing and wanted to have lunch sometime.  Before this entire ordeal we met and had a good talk.  I saw him right after I was given the good news and he wanted to have lunch again.  I shared this whole story with him in greater details and invited him to visit our church!  He couldn’t that week but promised he would make it the following Sunday.  When that Sunday came I was surprised that when I walked in the door there he was!  Jeremy had a good message that he shared with us and afterwards I introduced my young student friend to him.  I left Jeremy alone with him as they were getting to know each other.  The next day I got an email from Jeremy saying that my young friend had given his heart to Jesus by praying the prayer of salvation.  I thought about this unusual scenario about a young man coming to the Lord and the circumstances that made it happen.  If I didn’t have medical issues I never would have called Jeremy to pray for me.  I never would have been in such great fellowship with the church and it’s people.  I never would have invited my young friend to church.  He wouldn’t have met Jeremy and prayed the prayer of salvation.  Romans 8:28 states that all things work together for the good for those who love him, and are called for his purpose.

So, what does it mean to be saved?  Is it more than just a prayer to pray and more than just a way to heaven?  After my journey the last two months I believe that Heaven is a happy byproduct of our faith, but being saved means so much more.  It means following a path where we walk by faith.  It’s a path that if we hold on to his hand God will lead us where we need to go.  That path is not always comfortable and not always painless but like he states “All things work for our good!”  If I knew beforehand that I would have to go through trials but out of it would come finding  fellowship with believers to worship with and a friend getting saved I would have made that trade off!  The song states “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so!”  Sometimes we say so in words but more often than not we say so in our actions.  We say so in our walk of faith when we don’t know where he is leading but we follow anyway.

The Wall

The year was 1975 and Tommy John a pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers was throwing a baseball over and over against a wall.  This was a drill that was part of his rehabilitation treatment.  Each day without variation he took five baseballs out and threw them one by one as hard as he could over and over again.  Each day he felt discouraged as the velocity of his throws wasn’t improving.  It was during 1974 the year before that John was having his best pitching season. Just before the all star break he was leading the league in wins with 13 against only 3 losses.  His career had been resurrected since he joined the Dodgers in 1972.  He started putting together winning seasons and 1974 was his best yet.  Then when least expected as he was at an all time professional high, his pitching world suddenly seemed to come to an end. On July 17, 1974 John was pitching against the Montreal Expos.  With two runners on and one out he hoped to throw his sinker in such a spot to get an inning ending double play.  As he threw the pitch his arm went limp and the ball floated softly outside.  Tommy could tell something was horribly wrong.  He attempted another pitch with the same results and motioned for the manager to come out.  “You better get someone else in here”, he said as he conveyed that he couldn’t go on.

Dr. Jobe, the teams physician advised Tommy to rest his arm and ice it down daily.  This seemed to be the perfect remedy.  Three or four times in the past Tommy had hurt his arm or shoulder and rest helped his body perform the healing.  He was not in favor of an operation if he could avoid it. After a month of rest and his team thick in the pennant race they were anxious for John to return to the mound to give them the boost they needed.  His arm felt so good that he attempted to throw batting practice.  When he threw the first pitch his arms strength was noticeably missing as the ball bounced in front of the plate.  The trainer taped his elbow for support and that improved his throwing but the velocity was way down and his ball movement was lost.  He told his manager that he was done for the season and called Dr. Jobe.  “I want you to operate on my arm”, he pleaded.  It was a decision that Tommy had thought long and hard about.  Knowing that rest was not helping it seemed like the only logical option available.

When Tommy woke up from his operation he noticed that not only was his left elbow bandaged but his right wrist was too.  Dr. Jobe explained the unusual procedure he had administered.  The tendon for his left elbow was so worn down that there was nothing left to work with. A replacement was needed and he came up with the procedure of using the tendon in Tommy’s  right wrist.  Dr. Jobe had transferred tendons before but not from wrists to elbows. This was an experimental operation that would help Tommy live an everyday life but it was unknown if his arm could ever throw a baseball the way he once did.  The rehabilitation process would be a bunch of strengthening exercises that included the wall exercise.  As Tommy was throwing against the wall every day he repeated a Bible verse that he loved over and over.  Luke 1:37 “For with God nothing is impossible.”  He stated how it was almost a symbolic thing he faced every day.  The wall represented the physical wall he was trying to break through. The wall was physically in front of him symbolizing his obstacle, and yet he needed the wall there to get to where he wanted to go.

Tommy took all of the 1975 season to rehabilitate his arm.  Working every day on strengthening his grip and his elbow with special exercises.  Over and over throwing baseballs against the wall until he tired and couldn’t continue.  It was hard but gradually strength came to his arm and elbow. Clinging to his faith that with God nothing is impossible,  he gained strength with the slightest improvement.  Throughout 1975 he kept the faith believing that truly nothing is impossible.  Every little improvement made him work all the harder.  When setbacks occurred he clung to his faith that the next time things would be better.

Amazingly in 1976 Tommy John pitched 207 innings!  His comeback was hailed all around baseball as a miracle.  During the next five years he won 20 or more games three times!  His professional success had taken a turn much like a falling rocket suddenly finding it’s thrust and reversing it’s course and speeding upward!  It was at this monumental time in his life that he was hit with a blow that literally brought him back to his knees.  It was a day that Tommy John would remember for the rest of his life.

On August 13, 1981 Tommy received a phone call while in the bullpen.  “Tell them I’ll call them later”, was his response.  It was disclosed to him that it was his wife Sally and she said it was an emergency.  Tommy learned that one of his three children the youngest named Travis had been seriously hurt.  Playing by the window of their vacation home three stories up Travis age 2 had fallen out of the window and hit the bumper of a parked car.  Sally hearing the news from one of the other siblings rushed to rescue Travis thinking that maybe he broke his arm, then realizing that it was a three story fall.  Travis was rushed to the emergency room as he was unconscious and in dire straits.  Tommy hurriedly dropped everything and rushed to get to his family.

Day after day Tommy sat in the hospital room with his son.  Because of his baseball status people from all over the country sent him letters of encouragement.  He did not go on the road with the team but took a break from the hospital room to pitch home games when his turn came around.  Most of the time he sat there hoping for a miracle for his son.  As the letters poured in he started reading them to his comatose son.  It was like that wall was in front of him again.  He had heard that his son could possibly hear him but couldn’t respond.  Carefully he removed letters from their envelopes and read to Travis.  This letter is from Mrs. Mary Fletcher of Dallas Texas he might have said.  She has been a long time Dodger fan and is praying for Travis.  Over and over he read letters sitting in that hospital room.  He found comfort in knowing that people cared enough to reach out.  It was unknown if Travis would make it.  Three weeks after the original accident Tommy John’s miracle happened.  Travis opened his eyes!  Joyfully each day got better and one day it was time for Travis to go home!  Miraculously he had no long term effects from his fall and has lived a normal healthy life since!

Tommy John pitched in the major leagues until he was 46 years old!  Amazingly at an age when his peers had long since retired Tommy was able to keep getting major league hitters out.  Today thousands of people have had the surgery that he had.  In fact they have named the procedure “Tommy John Surgery.”  People throughout the world know his name through this even if they don’t know who he was.  His surgery is responsible for useless pitching arms becoming useful again!

Like Tommy John you may have a wall in front of you.  Not all walls fall down so that we can walk through similar to the red sea parting.  Sometimes the wall remains and we have to go over or through them.  God doesn’t always answer our prayers the way we want them answered.  He loves us and works everything for our good if we truly trust him.  Just as Tommy John put his faith and pitching future in the hands of a doctor and an operation, God is operating on us too.  He is equipping us with new strength as he transplants his loving spirit to fill our needs.  The wall that Tommy John was throwing the baseball against was necessary.  It was a way for him to gain strength. God allows walls in our lives to strengthen us too.  When a wall is in front of you rejoice knowing that good will come out of it!  Remember that nothing is impossible with God!

I Felt Like I Belonged!

He sounded young!  It was like I had the wrong person on the line but this is the number he gave me. That was my first impression after talking to Tony Gianunzio for the first time in over forty years.  I had left him a note on Facebook telling him that he was my English teacher my junior year in high school and that I had written a feature story about him that made the school newspaper back then.  I had looked at his Facebook page and it was filled with pictures of the event.  The event was something I ran across in the paper days before.  A 92 year old WWII Veteran was going to throw out the first pitch at a Chicago Cubs game on Sunday.  After reading his name and the places he had taught I suddenly realized that he was my former teacher!  I had waited a few days after the event before I contacted him on Facebook.  I figured that he would be very popular for awhile and I would not be able to get his full attention.  After sending him the message I kept checking my Facebook page but there was no reply.  Two days later I checked again and there was a reply and it was short “Lewis, Call me..and he gave his number!”

We talked for a little while as I told him about the story I wrote about him as a student.  He didn’t remember which came as no surprise to me.  He has helped thousands of students in the past and to him it was just a part of the job.  To me it was a caring teacher coming to my rescue.  I suggested that we meet somewhere and talk but I could tell his defenses were up.  “I don’t know”, he went on to say.  “It depends on what you are going to write about me.”  As I tried to explain what my story might be about I felt a slight nervousness as I talked.  It was like going back over forty years and trying to get my teachers approval and a good grade.  The fact was I wasn’t quite sure how I would write the story and I think it showed.   As I was talking an idea came to me.  Maybe I could take a baby step and just ask him a question or two over the phone.  I had read some articles written about the event but none of them seemed to go into much depth.   He seemed comfortable with that so I asked the question I hadn’t seen asked before.  What did it feel like being on that mound at Wrigley Field?  He pondered my question for just a few seconds..”that is a very good question”, he replied.  Just then he informed me he had another call.  “Call me back in 5 or 10 minutes”, he said and we quickly ended our chat.

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When I called back ten minutes later I had taken the time to write more questions down.  It proved to be a wasted effort as I reminded him of the original question.  He again assured me that it was a very good question.  Then without warning I could feel his defenses come down.  His answer was amazing and articulated his feelings more than I had ever expected.  “I felt like I belonged there”, he started.  Tony explained that having the baseball background and story with the Cubs helped with that feeling.  “I felt like I wasn’t just a veteran asked to throw the pitch, I felt I belonged because of my connection to baseball.” They had me warm up in front of the dugout with Justin Grimm, a pitcher for the Cubs.  “I threw maybe 10 balls for warmup and was told to take the mound.”  “I strided out to that mound”, he said as he made sure I realized that it wasn’t a slow walk. “I couldn’t wait to get there and feel the dirt under my feet”.  “I felt like I owned the place and I wanted to be there.”  “I wanted to throw that pitch and I wanted to look good doing it!” “I was in the moment, It wasn’t like it was 1942 again.”  His pitch was firm and he told me it was short and to the left of the plate as his catcher Grimm moved swiftly to catch it on the skip.  Amazingly he analyzed the pitch even more!  “I felt good and confident”, he said “but I hadn’t cultivated the rhythm and the timing.  “The ball came out of my hand a little late which accounted for it not reaching the plate.”  However he made a point that was important to him.  “I threw a line drive and my catcher had to move quickly to his right to grab it.”  I commented that it must have had a little zip on it, not like he lobbed it.  “Absolutely” , he said, “and that was the proof!”  For Tony’s effort he got a standing ovation from the crowd! He would soon realize that his day at the ballpark was far from over!

tony

It was 1942 and Tony was pitching in a Cubs tryout camp.  There were many other prospects there and originally they had put him at third base.  It was an unfamiliar position for him and he made it clear to them that he was a pitcher.  Finally they moved him to the mound.  It was a higher mound than what he was used to pitching from for his team in Iron Mountain, Michigan.  That was where he was discovered and where he received a letter for a tryout with the Cubs in Jamesville, Wisconsin.  Tony and his catcher Leo Paolo were invited.  “Leo could really hit but couldn’t throw or run very well”, Tony commented..  Tony was showing his skills in the game and after he adjusted to the mound nobody was getting on base.  He had pitched three innings and he wasn’t able to show the scouts his abilities from the stretch to hold runners on because nobody had been on base.  Suddenly a huge rainstorm came and the rest of the game was cancelled.  The Cubs ended up picking five players from that camp that they wanted to give a thirty day advanced look at.  All of their expenses and spending money would be paid and it was pretty much guaranteed that if they showed anything at all they would be assigned to a high minor league team.  They liked how Tony pitched!  He had great control and threw four very good pitches which included an overhand fastball, a sidearm curve, a 3 quarter curve that was thrown hard and broke sharply from the waist to the knees with a 6 inch break, and an overhand sinker that sharply broke down.  There was a lot of movement on Tony’s pitches but the main one the scouts wanted to see was his fastball.  So Tony pumped his fastball and  the scouts liked what they saw and chose him as one of the five they picked.  He was told to go home and relax and they would send for him.  In the attempt to hide Tony from the other teams they misspelled his name and put down that he was a second base candidate.  Teams did that type of thing to keep other teams from swooping in on their prospects at that time.  While he was back at Iron Mountain President Roosevelt had the draft age lowered to 19.  Tony ended up enlisting in the Coast Guard and received a letter from the Cubs a short time later telling him to take care of himself and they would see him after the war.

Tony-in-service

When Tony got out of the service three years later he didn’t have the desire to play major league baseball anymore.  He ended up pursuing a teaching career which was where his real passion was!  Tony explained to me that there wasn’t any money in baseball back then.  Yes, there was a chance of fame which he really didn’t desire and it was extensive travel without much monetary reward.  Maybe the real turning point in his career choice happened a few months into his service duty.  It was the next spring after he had enlisted when a group of ten servicemen (Tony included) were killing time playing a pepper game.  Tony had brought his spikes,glove and hat along just in case he got a chance to play the game that he loved.  Later Tony was warming up on the pitchers mound when someone tapped him on the shoulder.  It was another serviceman with broad shoulders named Glenn McQuillen.  He asked Tony to pitch to him so he could get some batting work in.  Tony was glad to do it and asked McQuillen how much he wanted?  Usually someone taking batting practice might want slower pitches they were sure to get the good part of the bat on.  “Everything you got”, came Mcquillen’s reply.  Tony was glad to test his arm out again throwing all of his pitches as well as he could!  He found that McQuillen was having a hard time centering his pitches.  He was hitting weak grounders and even his hits were of the Texas league variety.  In other words there were no sharp hits off of his bat.  Tony pitched to McQuillen for 45 minutes and even though Mcquillen was a dead pull right handed hitter he more often than not dribbled balls to second base or further to the right side.  After McQuillen had given up he had a grin on his face.  Tony described his eyes as “fierce like anger” as he walked to the mound and put out his hand.  Tony accepted his handshake even though it was apparent McQuillen wasn’t happy.  “You have a damn good curve ball”, he said and walked away.  An officer came up to Tony.  He knew he didn’t do anything wrong but the officer coming up to him caught him off guard.  “Just a minute”, he said as he stepped in front of Tony as he was walking away.  “Do you know who you were pitching to?”  Honestly Tony didn’t and he told him so.  That was Glenn McQuillen of the St. Louis Browns!  Tony walked away with the officers words still in his ears. He had heard of McQuillen because he made it a habit of studying the major league box scores.  From that day on he knew that he had the stuff to get big league hitters out!  It was all he wanted, just to know in his heart that he could have pitched in the big leagues if he wanted to was good enough for him!

Glenn McQuillen

Glenn McQuillen

So we fast forward 31 years and I’m this student in his class.  I am also in a journalism class with Mr. Sheldon.  I’m not really sure why I took journalism.  I really didn’t like it at the time.  I think it was the time involved I really didn’t like.  In order to write a good story you need to talk to people and get the story right.  You need to find out the who, what, where, when, and how and organize it accordingly.  It was just the idea that if I desired to write something I probably would have been alright.  However when I’m told I had to write something it was completely different.  I remember I tried to write a story about a tennis event I didn’t take time to go to.  The event was a tennis exhibition where Mr. Rossio the tennis coach was playing the best girls on the tennis team.  It was similar to the battle of the sexes tour that Bobby Riggs was making at the time.  I winged a story without any real details about what actually happened and turned it in.  Mr. Sheldon asked me point blank if I had taken the time to attend the event? Quietly and honestly feeling ashamed I told him no.  Well here was another assignment and it was to write a feature story about someone.  I really don’t know why I picked Mr. Gianunzio.  I’m thinking the assignment was coming due and I had nobody to write about.  After class one day I asked him if I could do a story about him for the paper.  Usually my stories were not making the paper.  They gave that space to seniors and juniors who were making the effort to write good stories.  I was not either of these.  However, Mr. Gianunzio was very cooperative!  We decided to meet in his classroom on my lunch hour.  Obviously it was his lunch hour too but he was willing to give it up for my benefit.  He told me the Cubs story and how he went into the service and how he was passionate about teaching.  He took me back to his roots in Iron Mountain, Michigan and how he got into teaching after his service duty.  He was very easy to talk to and I could tell he liked the fact that I was doing the story about him!  They had a photographer come in and take his picture and the story came out very nice with my name under the title.

Recently an independent film maker was in town doing a story about Kalamazoo, Michigan. On hearing the story about Tony and the Cubs and the fact that Tony was a WWII veteran, the Cubs were contacted to verify the facts.  After the facts were verified the Cubs contacted Tony about throwing the first pitch out before a game.  Tony practiced some before the big day.  After all he hadn’t touched a baseball in more than 45 years.  He wanted to dedicate his appearance to all of the young men who could have been major league players but lost their chance because of the war.

So now we are back at the Cubs game again.  Tony has thrown out the first pitch and got his standing ovation.  They had asked him to write three paragraphs about his presence at the game.  He did and was very satisfied as to how it came out.  There was a scheduled break in the fourth inning as they were honoring Tony again.  He was asked to take the field again but this time he was all by himself.  He asked the lady in charge named Kaitlyn August what she wanted him to do?  She answered back “anything you want to.”  Her only rule was to stay between the third base dugout and third base.  So Tony went on the field as the players sat in their dugouts.  He was out there a good 10 minutes as he was shown on the jumbo screen in center field and the paragraphs he wrote were read.  Tony walked around doing odd things like winding up and making a pitching motion to throwing the ball up in the air and catching it.  He spun the ball and caught it and demonstrated how he threw his curve ball.  He was a one man show and his every move was on the big screen!  Tony told me that “nobody got bored!”  After he was out there for close to ten minutes Kaitlyn came to get him.  “You were great!”, she said.  The fans once again gave him a standing ovation!

When thinking about Tony and his experience at the game, I’m reminded of a story I heard from a friend.  They happened to be at the mall and they spotted an elderly couple probably in their 80’s.  They were offered a cream cheese pretzel and the man was all in!  He actually was excited while his wife on the other hand rolled her eyes.  My friend told me that from that quick observation it was very clear that the man was living and enjoying life while his wife was just trying to get through it.  Tony is living and enjoying life too!  He mentioned to me that the fans were great!  He felt like they were with him from the beginning!  The moment they saw him at 92 filled with energy and commanding that mound they fell in love with him!  “They saw in me someone who was willing to make a fool of himself for the love of baseball” he offered! It was such a sight seeing him move around (not in a wheelchair as they expected) like he was 40 years younger than his actual age!  Tony confided in me that he didn’t think the fans really wanted him to throw a strike.  “That would be almost too superhuman”, he stated.  Still I have read other articles where it was apparent that his competitive fire was still burning!  “If I had another couple of weeks to train I know I could have thrown a strike with good velocity”, he stated.

As one of the ever decreasing number of living world war II veterans Tony wrote a book in 2013.  It is called “The Last Romantic War.”  Several of his shipmates wanted him to write “our book.”  Tony has a real passion for creative writing.  He loved to teach it and he writes in a style that is understandable and very heartfelt!  One of my questions to him was going to be what the word romantic means to him?  I don’t think I have to ask him that question anymore.  It seems clear that it means being emotionally attached to, caring, loving, and hurting all rolled into one.

The Cubs have a rule that they don’t want anyone on the field before their time.  Two or three times Tony mentioned that him and his entourage which consisted of himself, his wife, his nephew, a close friend, and four camera people had to make their way through the stands to get to their position.  One time he noticed a young boy maybe 9 or 10 years old standing in front of him.  It seemed almost perfect as Tony placed his hand on the boys head and gave him advice.  “Play baseball and don’t stop”, he said. “You are an American!, Play baseball.”  After he had encouraged the boy he looked up and behind him was the boys mother and she was crying.  She gave Tony a huge hug!  He confided in me that his moment with that kid and his mom was just as much of a thrill to him as throwing out that first pitch!  Maybe in that moment the passion Tony had and has for teaching was revealed.  Though the attention of the crowd and pitching was great, giving a one on one lesson to a kid for his benefit was just as thrilling and maybe even a little bit more so!   Baseball might have brought him fame but he wouldn’t have touched the many lives he did (including mine) with his passionate teaching! Thank God that he used his life to enrich the lives of so many!  When I asked Tony what keeps him going he said “find enjoyment, appreciate everything, find enjoyment!”  Lesson learned Mr. Gianunzio!  I have enjoyed writing your story!  You made it easy just like you did 41 years ago and I did my best again! And one more thing Mr. Gianunzio, you have always belonged because the world needs people who passionately care! I shake my head admiring you because at 92 you are still teaching, still caring, still loving, still youthful, still living, and still enjoying your life!

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