lightenload

Come with me on a spiritual Journey!

Archive for the category “An Interrupted Life”

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!

Related image

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.

https://i1.wp.com/i.quoteaddicts.com/media/quotes/1/15929-yogi-berra-quotes.jpg

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.

Image result for jeremy morris singer photo

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.

Embedded image permalink

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!

Interrupted Lives

Stefanie Spielman was thirty years old and the wife of a famous NFL player named Chris Spielman.  Stefanie was pregnant when she discovered a lump on her breast. Later she would miscarry and get her worst fear, a cancer diagnosis.  Stefanie and Chris had a storybook life together.  Their love blossomed even though they were often apart.  Chris with his football career that he loved  passionately and Stephanie as a mother of four and model.

After getting drafted by the Detroit Lions out of Ohio State after an exceptional college career Chris went on to becoming the Lions all time leader in tackles. He also represented the Lions four times in the annual Pro Bowl game which features the best the NFL has to offer!  In 1996 Chris joined the Buffalo Bills and promptly set an individual and team record of 206 tackles in a season!  In 1997 Chris had a major injury that required spinal surgery.  Chris would have been able to continue his career in 1998 except his wife Stefanie was going through her cancer treatments.  It shocked the sports world when Chris announced that he would be sitting out the 1998 season to be with his ailing wife.  “How could he give up his career and let the Buffalo Bills down?”, they wondered.  Chris had a simple reply to these doubters which was “How can I not?”  “I made a vow before God and I would be far less a man if I didn’t honor it!”

Chris and Stefanie met while they were in high school.  The setting was a high school dance and Chris saw a player from another school dancing with Stefanie.  As a new song was starting Chris got the nerve up to ask Stefanie to dance. This forwardness wasn’t an easy thing for Chris.  He was an introvert who didn’t like public attention or a lot of interaction.  Someone said that he would have been happy living his life on a mountain top away from everyone.  Stefanie on the other hand was very outgoing.  She was a cheerleader and very popular.  Brian DeWitz a high school teammate of Chris remembered the time.  He could see something from that early stage in their relationship that would carry them in years ahead.  “It was a very, very selfless relationship.  It was a very mature relationship.”

Chris in uniformStefanie the cheerleader!

Even though Chris didn’t like public attention, he was getting it from his tremendous football exploits.  Chris admired Stefs outgoing personality and the way she could be the center of attention.  To his surprise Chris was asked by a local booster Jack Gorius if he would be OK with Jack starting a campaign to get Chris on the Wheaties box?  “Sure, why not?”, was Chris’ reply thinking nothing would come of it. The booster was interested in getting  their town of Massillon, Ohio on the national map.  Chris was surprised when the town caught fire for the idea and campaigned for the story vigorously.  Between his junior and senior years in high school a Wheaties box was made with Chris on the cover!

Chris on Wheaties

Chris continued his football excellence at Ohio State University.  His relationship with Stef grew and they repeated their vows on their memorable start of married life!

Chris & Stef wedding

Although Chris was so dedicated to his football career and improving his game he did his best to be a good husband and father.  Four kids followed and it was not easy to balance because Chris had to be away most of the time for six months.  However, they both adjusted to the situation and loved each other and their kids very much.  Year after year it was the same routine, first in Detroit and then in Buffalo.  He was born in Canton Ohio and that was where he was sure his legacy would end up.  Canton Ohio is the home to Football’s Hall of Fame.  Then the tragic news of the cancer discovery came.

Chris had set aside his football career but the change was not easy.  He found himself watching two or three games every Sunday and thinking about the game that he loved.  He was also finding it hard to care for the kids when Stef couldn’t.  Being away from them for mostly six months at a time had taken it’s toll.  They were used to mommy helping them and had a hard time adjusting to Chris.  Likewise Chris had a hard time adjusting to the tasks that Stef did without thinking.  Tasks like the laundry and cooking.  Chris found that his football training knowledge came into play here.  It didn’t always look pretty but step by step much like football he could usually get the job done.  He felt very humbled by his lack of knowledge and skills but he muddled through the tasks as best he could.

Stef had a hard time with losing her hair as chemo treatments usually cause.  One day when a bunch of her hair came off in the hands of one of her children she decided to have a “Hair Picnic”.  She had her whole head shaved. As her kids watched and ate peanut butter sandwiches, Stef watched in a mirror as the hair that won her modeling jobs all around the country and Greece was swiftly chopped away. The idea was that she would control when her hair came out, not cancer!  Chris arrived a little late because in a support of solidarity he had just had all of his hair shaved off too.  He figured that it would draw some attention away from Stef and onto him.  It was during this first year of chemo that Stef shared her thoughts in a journal.

“I never thought I could love my family more than I did, but I do. I am a happy person. I really don’t like being sad. I always try to find the good things in life. I know God is with me. I know there is a reason God gave me breast cancer, and I’m supposed to do something with it. Life throws us a lot of curve balls, sometimes all at once. I think God has a reason and a plan for all of it. Now is the time for me to suck it up and follow the path put before me. I’m thirty years old and I have breast cancer. My life already has had some struggles, but I have been so fortunate and blessed and truly fulfilled. I have love, excitement, thrill, and adventure. I am otherwise healthy and physically fit and have always been confident and sure of my capabilities. I am trying to direct my strength to get me through this new chapter in my life. I will beat this thing. I have to. Madison and Noah are so much motivation. I will do anything for them. Chris, too. I need him so much, it’s not even funny.”

Although the chemo was having devastating effects on Stef, Chris was there to encourage her!  He made it a point to keep telling her that the chemo was the good guy.  That it was their ally!  Stef bought in because she was willing to go through anything to resume her life with her family.

Spielman_His09

After the year away Chris was anxious to resume his football career and Stef was anxious to get on with life.  She had her last treatment and they celebrated.  Her cancer was now in remission and everyone was happy!  Chris diligently got ready for the 1999 season.  He would be playing for his hometown Cleveland Browns.  His comeback from spinal neck fusion surgery didn’t last long.  In an exhibition game against the Bears he was blindsided by the Bears center.  Spielman remained prone on the field for several minutes before walking off on his own power.  He told his former teammate from the Lions Lomas Brown that he had been temporarily paralyzed.  Days later Chris announced his retirement from the NFL.  He had given all that his body had to offer and he couldn’t give the game anymore.  He was getting out while he could still walk away.

The Best!

The Best!

This whole cancer experience was having a deep spiritual effect on Chris.  He had shamefully realized that football had really been his God through the years.  He had played it since the age of nine and he religiously did everything he could to get better.  Although he loved his wife and family football was his God.  Now he was forced to deal with the real question “What is my purpose?’  He struggled with the question of why God was putting him and his family through this?  He wished he could be as strong as Stef who seemed to see a purpose in this whole ordeal.  He dedicated himself to the cause of helping find a cure for cancer.  Stef and Chris’ story began to take a national turn as they both dedicated themselves to raising money for the cause.  They also wanted to expand the education of the disease.  As determined and dedicated as Chris  was in football he became even more so to the cause.  He forced himself to be more of an upfront person as he and Stef went on national shows such as Oprah.

Stefanie established the Stefanie Spielman Fund for Breast Cancer Research in 1998 considering it a life mission to improve research and awareness.  At the time she stated “I know there is a reason God gave me breast cancer, and I’m supposed to do something with it.”  She shared her story through the years throughout Central Ohio and the fund accumulated more than 6.5 million dollars for breast cancer research, education, and patient assistance at Ohio State University’s Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute. There was another important award that Stef established.  It was called Stefanie’s Champions and it was a yearly award for the caregivers that gave so much to the patients.  Stefanie lovingly gave the first award to Chris as her way of saying thanks.

Chris & Stef

It was a constant fight for Stef through the years. The cancer would go into remission only to start back up again.  Still she went to events as her body let her.  One time Chris noted a firm and direct answer that Stef gave a recent cancer patient.  The young lady was asking Stef questions and suddenly became concerned thinking she was bothering her.  Stef put a grip on her hand and said these words, “Don’t you know this is what I’m here for?”  After four re-occurrences through eleven years the doctors let Chris know that this time it was terminal.  Ironically there was a little good news in 2009.  Chris had been elected to the College Football Hall of Fame!  As sick as she was Stef willed herself to be part of Chris’ celebration.  She needed to be wheeled out to the field but she was there with Chris and their children to honor the man that she loved so much!

Stefanie Spielman Chris&Stef-HOF

It was November of 2009 and Chris was preparing in his mind for life without Stef.  It was hard and yet their faith in God gave them hope for the after life.  Stefanie Spielman died in November of 2009.  Before she did as both knew what the outcome would be Chris asked Stef a heart wrenching question..”Was I a good husband?”  “The best”, she answered without hesitating. Those simple words of praise meant more to Chris than all the football fame he ever received!

 

Chris and Stefanie

Post Navigation