January 30, 2012
Erik Weihenmayer has climbed the 7 highest peaks all around the world. That's pretty cool, but even more thrilling when you learn that Erik is blind.
Erik was born with a disease called 'Retinoshisis' that causes blindness. There is no cure. He wore thick glasses and learned to read. By the age of 13, Erik's eyesight was gone. He didn't want to use Braille or a cane, thinking he could live just as he had when he was sighted. He tried to play ball, but realized quickly that he had to be able to see to catch. So he went into wrestling. After a few years of wrestling, he made it to the National Junior Freestyle Wrestling Championships in Iowa when in High School. He decided to use a guide dog at that point and enrolled in Boston College, where he earned a degree in English. He became a Middle School teacher and a wrestling coach and got married.
Erik got a taste of mountain climbing at a summer camp for the blind when he was sixteen. He hiked with his father and loved it. Soon after, his mother died and his father took Erik and his brothers on an expedition across Peru, Pakistan, Spain and New Guinea to give them some bonding time. Erik fell in love with climbing. Over the next few years, Erik climbed Mt. McKinley in 1995, El Capitan in 1996 and got married on top of Mt. Kilimanjaro in 1997. Yes, he married his wife at 13,000 feet elevation!
He kept climbing, reaching the top of Argentina's Aconcagua in 1999, Canada's Polar Circus in 2000, and Antarctica's Mount Vinson. Now he had conquered the highest mountains in several continents and set his sights on the rest. In 2001, he struggled to the top of Mt. Everest. Like the other climbs, it was dangerous, but because of a bad storm that came up, they almost had to abandon this climb. He arrived bloody and sick from the altitude, but he had made it! He is the only blind man to ever make it to the summit.
He reached the top of Australia's Mt. Elbrus and the seventh peak, Russia's Mt. Kosciusko in 2002. All told, Erik climbed to the top of the tallest peak in each of the 7 continents! And he did it without his sight.
For blind people, navigating in the controlled world is the easiest. If you never move your furniture, you can count on it always being in the same place. City blocks are generally the same size, so you can plan for curbs after so many steps. And curbs are all about the same height. In nature, things vary and have no uniformity. For Erik to choose mountain climbing as his field of expertise is amazing. A fellow climber said, "Watching Erik scramble up a rock face is a little like watching a spider make its way up a wall," according to Time [Magazine]. "His hands are like antennae, gathering information as they flick outward, surveying the rock for cracks, grooves, bowls, nubbins, knobs, edges and ledges, converting all of it into a road map etched into his mind."
The real irony is that most mountain climbers do it for the view at the top. Erik does it for other reasons, as he can't see the view. He said, "I like doing things that are new and thrilling. Blindness is just a nuisance." In climbing, "you just have to find a different way of doing it." Erik has written books and speaks motivationally. He has also led expeditions for the blind.
Erik shows us that doing hard things makes us stronger. We can do the hard things in our lives.
Kyle Maynard, the congential quadruple amputee has climbed to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro! Well, actually he crawled to the top. Remember, no arms or legs… An article was published in yesterdays' local paper. (Gwinnett Daily Post Sunday January 29, 2012 1C and 4C.) It's an amazing feat for a fully-functional person, not to mention how hard it would be for an amputee. Kyle wore carbon-fiber 'sockets' around his limbs like little shoes to give him traction in his climb. He said, "I would look up the mountain, I'd look up at the summit and it didn't seem like it was getting any closer. That was really just a huge mental challenge. I had to kind of remind myself that it was literally going to happen one step at a time. Don't be so caught up on the horizon. Just keep moving." Kyle is the first amputee to climb Kilimanjaro without use of prosthesis and, as Kyle joked, probably the first man period to be dumb enough to crawl to the top. I'm so glad he achieved this big goal! He shows all of us that we can do hard things.
January 23, 2012
This week a man came to visit Norcross and spoke to some area coaches. I didn't know who he was, but Scott did. Scott got all excited to hear his name: Jim Ryun. That's because Jim did something so unusual in the running world in 1965 that inspires people even today.
Jim was a normal kid growing up in Wichita, Kansas. Well, except for his hearing loss. At 4 years old, he had the measles. It destroyed 50% of his hearing and messed up his equilibrium. Jim said, "As a child, I wanted to enter into the classroom discussion. But sometimes, I might hear the question inaccurately and give the wrong answer. After a while, your fellow classmates begin to think you're basically a dummy. When you can't hear, you tend to withdraw."
His hearing loss may have affected his athletic abilities. He was cut from his Church baseball team and his Junior High school Basketball team. He was even cut from his Track and Field teams. After all of that disappointment, I think I'd quit. But Jim kept trying. He joined the Cross Country team and slowly worked up from average to becoming a winner. After 5 months on the team, Jim won a mile race, the second competitive one he'd ever ran.
After running in just 4 competitive races, Jim's Coach Bob Timmons saw potential. About ten years earlier, a man named Roger Bannister ran a mile in less than 4 minutes. This feat astounded the world. Experts had previously thought that the human body could not do it; it was simply physically impossible. But Englishman Roger Bannister did it in 1954, then others did too. They were all professional athletes, Olympic quality runners with the best equipment and finest coaches around. And they were extremely proud of this achievement.
Well, Bob Timmons had the idea that Jim could run a mile in less than 4 minutes too. And it would be the first time that a high school kid had done it. And the first time any American had done it. When he told Jim of this goal, Jim was surprised. He had only run 4 races and had failed at so many other sports. Could he really do it? Coach Timmons recalled, "I took Jim aside and told him that eventually he would be a four-minute miler, and that I hoped he would be the first high school boy to break four minutes. But you don't just happen to reach a great goal. You plan, you work. From that second meet on, I urged Jim to think not like a high school sophomore but like a four-minute miler."
Coach Timmons started Jim on a difficult training regiment. Jim delivered newspapers at 5 am each morning, then came home to lace up his running shoes. He'd run 6 miles through the streets of Wichita, then head to school. After school, he trained with Coach Timmons in wind sprints to help him with his weakness of tiring in the last part of the mile race. Jim hated running alone in the rain or snow on those dark early mornings. He felt like a freak. But he kept at it, feeling that he really could reach his goal.
After months of training, Jim flew to California to run in the Compton Invitational in June 1964. There he was running against Roger Bannister and a host of other Olympic athletes. He recalled, "I looked around and asked myself, what am I doing here?" He came in 8th place, but his time was 3:59. He did it! He was only a 17 year old Junior in High School! Suddenly he was among the ranks of Olympic quality athletes. The winner of that race, Dyrol Burlsen said, "There was nothing unusual about my victory. The entire story was back in eighth place. There is simply no way to imagine how good Jim Ryun is or how far he will go after he becomes an adult. What he did was more significant than Roger Bannister's first mile under four minutes."
In 1965 as a High School Senior, Jim broke the 4 minute mile three more times. The first time he ran in the Kansas State High School Championship meet against all High School students. He won by a long lead in 3:58.3 minutes, and this record still stands as the fastest mile in a race among only High School students. The next race, he came in at 3:58.1; the third was the Compton Invitational again in California. He had just graduated from High School, 18 years old, and was again running against Olympic-quality athletes. In fact, he was running against the Olympic Champion, New Zealander Peter Snell. Jim finished second to Snell with a time of 3:56.8 minutes.
It was just a few weeks later that Jim beat Peter Snell and broke the world record. It was the AAU Championships in San Diego, California on June 27, 1965. Jim, an 18 year old recent High School graduate had beaten the Olympic champion! He ran that race in 3:55.3 minutes, a record that stood until just a few years ago.
Jim went on to win a lot more races and win all kinds of accolades for his running prowess. He won Track and Field's Athlete of the Year award two years in a row 1966-1967. He broke the world record for the mile 4 times; once as a High School Senior (3:55.3), twice as a College Freshman and once more as a College Sophomore. He competed in 3 Olympic games: 1964 (when he didn't make finals); 1968, when he won Silver in the 1500 meter run; and 1972 when he was tripped and eliminated. He's had his photo on the cover of Sports Illustrated 7 times!
Today Jim helps hearing impaired children obtain hearing aids. And he speaks to students in schools for the deaf. He also speaks publickly to Coaches and urges them to expect a lot out of their athletes, as Jim credits Coach Timmons for much of his success as a runner. During his visit to Atlanta last week, he told the coaches, "You don't want to rescue your athletes from difficulties. These are easier lessons now than they are as an adult. Don't be afraid to challenge them to do something." He recognized that Coach Timmons and others who encouraged him along the way were gifts that God gave him. "A lot of people are afraid of failure, but what they really are is afraid of success. Don't be afraid to dream big."
Jim didn't let his hearing loss prevent him from succeeding as an athlete. He just had to find the right sport. He followed the training regiment of his Coach and worked hard to become the winner that he is today. He did something that many thought was impossible through a combination of hard work, determination and good advice. That recipe for success applies to many endeavors!
Beitzel, Ben. “Mile Barrier-Breaker Ryun Dares Coaches to ‘Dream Big.” Gwinnett Daily Post 14 Jan 2012: 4B. Print.
Brown, Gwilym S. “A Very Fast Crowd at the Tape” Sports Illustrated 15 June 1964: n. page. Web. 21 Jan 2012.
“The Magic Miler” Faith Baptist Church Web. 21 Jan 2012.
Michalik, Tom. “Jim Ryun, One of the Best Two High School Runners Ever” Randolph College.edu. Web. 21 Jan 2012.
O’Leary, Tom. “A Kansas Boy with a Man-size Task” Sports Illustrated 14 Sept 14 1964: n. page. Web. 21 Jan 2012.
Watch Jim run the famous AAU Championship when he won against Olympic Champion Peter Snell 27 June 1965 on UTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ots91-yh_o (or just search his name on Utube.)
January 17, 2012
We did service on Martin Luther King day because that's one of the things Martin Luther King taught. And he helped bring about the changes in America so that everyone would be treated as equals. So today I wanted to share one of my favorite stories related to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960's.
Ruby Bridges was an ordinary 6 year old African American girl living in New Orleans, Louisiana. But her faith in God was anything but ordinary. She would rely on that when she started her new school. All over America, children went to schools in their neighborhoods. This is just like today, except that when Ruby Bridges was in Kindergarten, neighborhoods were very segregated. White families lived in neighborhoods and African American families lived in different neighborhoods. They were in different parts of town and different sizes. That's because of biases that continued even after slavery ended in the 1860's.
When the African Americans who had been working as slaves became free, they had no money or other resources to help them get started. But they knew how to work hard. In contrast, white people had land, businesses and money. They had built schools to educate their children. African Americans didn't go to school—they worked in fields along with their parents as slaves. The former slave-owning White families had only seen African Americans working in fields and assumed they didn't have the capacity to learn like White children did.
Isn't that the strangest idea? So when the slaves were freed, one would expect that the children would attend the public schools with all of the children. But the proud white families wouldn't have these former slaves in their schools. The former slaves kept working in the fields, but now earning money and preparing to buy their own homes and start their own businesses. As they worked and saved money, they bought homes and established neighborhoods with other African American families. And they built schools. Schools have been supported by tax money for many years now, but somehow more money would go to schools teaching White students than the schools teaching African American students. (Realize that this explanation is an oversimplification of a very interesting complex issue…)
When Ruby Bridges was just about ready to start First Grade, the government decided that it was time to integrate the schools. Her school district was chosen to be the first to do it. Even if you lived in a different neighborhood, you could attend a better school. In her school district, African American students were tested to see if they could succeed at a White school. Six children passed this test, Ruby being one of them. (Don't be alarmed that only six passed; remember that the African American schools had inferior textbooks and outdated curriculum. They were in fact receiving a 'worse' education.)
Three of the kids were assigned to a particular White school. Two kids dropped out of the program. Ruby was assigned to attend the William Frantz Public School, all by herself. Well, she wasn't alone. She had lots of policemen to guard her, 4 Federal Agents to walk with her, and her Mom. But she also had Heavenly Father.
The first day she went to school, mobs of people lined the streets near the schools. Police and Federal Agents kept them at bay. The people yelled terrible things at Ruby, so terrible that Newscasters had to blur the background sound to keep from violating decency laws to prepare to show it on TV. One woman held a coffin with a black doll in it. This really scared Ruby. What was the woman saying? Was someone going to kill her? Other people threw tomatoes and eggs at her. They streaked across the building walls. The sad thing is that most of this came from White mothers! Other White mothers pulled their kids out of school completely in protest. Fortunately, Mrs. Henry, Ruby's new teacher, made Ruby feel safe and loved at school. Riots broke out all over town, causing the police to pull out their riot gear and clamp down on the violence.
Ruby's mom came on the first two days, but had to go back to work. On the third day of school, she told Ruby, "Remember, if you get afraid, say your prayers. You can pray to God anytime, anywhere. He will always hear you." Ruby remembered, "That was how I started praying on the way to school. The things people yelled at me didn't seem to touch me. Prayer was my protection. After walking up the steps past the angry crowd, though, I was glad to see Mrs. Henry. She gave me a hug, and she sat right by my side instead of at the big teacher's desk in the front of the room. Day after day, it was just Mrs. Henry and me, working on my lessons."
Ruby's teacher, Mrs. Henry, taught Ruby alone, as none of the other kids would be in her class. She encouraged her and supported her. Ruby couldn't go out to recess with the other kids, so she and Mrs. Henry played games in the classroom. Because Mrs. Henry was so kind to Ruby, she learned that White people can be nice even though thousands of White people outside were being so mean to her. On the way to school, Ruby began praying to not only to be unafraid, and also to forgive the White people as they yelled terrible things at her, because she realized they really didn't know what they were doing. How amazing and profound for such a young girl to understand!
School ended in June, and when it started in September again, the school was fully integrated! She had children of all colors in her classroom and there was no mention again of the ugliness that happened the previous year. Now she could play with the other kids at recess and learn with them in the classroom. Ruby had done it! She had blazed a trail for others to follow. Because of what she did, it was easier for everyone to adjust to having children of all backgrounds in the same classrooms.
Today Ruby Bridges is a mother and grandmother, and she speaks to people (with Mrs. Henry) about how God fashioned all of his children into different and unique individuals.
Ruby said, "It turns out that because of what I went through on the front lines of the battle for school integration, people recognize my name and are eager to hear what I have to say about racism and education today. I speak to groups around the country, and when I visit schools, Mrs. Henry often comes with me. We tell kids our story and talk about the lessons of the past and how we can still learn from them today - especially that every child is a unique human being fashioned by God. I tell them that another important thing I learned in first grade is that schools can be a place to bring people together - kids of all races and backgrounds. That's the work I focus on now, connecting our children through their schools. It's my way of continuing what God set in motion 40 years ago when he led me up the steps of William Frantz Public School and into a new world with my teacher, Mrs. Henry - a world that under his protection has reached for beyond just the two of us in that classroom."
Although Ruby was only 6 years old, she did something really hard. Fortunately, she wasn't alone. She had Heavenly Father with her. Would she have had the courage she did if she had not been taught of God and how to pray? It's such a blessing to have the gospel in our lives so that we can count on Heavenly Father to strengthen us in our challenges.
January 9, 2012
Today I want to tell you about a really amazing Christian named Tim Tebow. He happens to be an NFL football player, currently playing for the Denver Broncos. But even more remarkable is that he's had such an impact on Football that a pose has been named after him, Bills in two state legislatures have been named after him and a Marvel Comic has been created representing him. ESPN has even made two documentaries about him!
Tim Tebow was born in the Phillippines while his parents were serving there as Christian Missionaries. His mother became seriously ill during her pregnancy and doctors advised her to terminate the pregnancy. She refused. People told her that her baby would be born with serious disabilities, but she could not be prevailed upon, probably due to their religious beliefs. Tim was born as a perfectly healthy boy! Doctors called it a miracle. Tim would go on to do many other things that would be termed miraculous.
At the age of 6, Tim thoughtfully approached his parents with the desire to commit to Christianity and follow Jesus Christ. Over the years, his goals became to be right with Jesus and to lead his football team to glory on the field. As a Homeschooler, in most states he wouldn't be able to play sports with the school teams. But in Florida, where he grew up, the law allows home schooled students to play on the school teams where they live. Tim began playing for the local high school team and soon excelled. His success prompted two bills before Alabama and Kentucky, named the Tim Tebow Bill, to enact legislation to force schools to allow home schooled athletes the right to play on public school teams. They are still pending.
Tim's High School teammates either loved him or hated him because he wasn't braggy or proud. He treated girls properly and publicly shared his commitment to be a virgin. He wouldn't swear and stayed out of trouble. The bad kids on the team hated him because Tim showed them that they could behave better. The good kids were glad they didn't stand alone. While on his High School team, he began what would later become known as 'Tebowing.' When he felt like praying, he would drop to one knee, remove his helmet and close his eyes in prayer, even in public places. Now this is a worldwide phenomenon. On a website, people post photos of themselves 'Tebowing' everywhere, at the Statue of Liberty, the Parthenon, the Eiffel Tower, and so forth. Some do it to mock him. Tim said of this, "I think it's cool. You don't know the heart of people. But I tend to think the best of people and believe they are doing it for the best reasons." 'Tebowing' has now been accepted as a verb in the English language by the Global Language Monitor! So he has created a verb!
After High School, he accepted a scholarship with the Florida Gators and played well for a rookie. He won the team's Most Valuable Player award three of the four years he played there. While there, he was awarded the Heisman trophy. He spent four years there, although he could have quit early and played for the NFL. Instead, he finished his Bachelors degree in Family, Youth and Community Sciences.
Tim was drafted by the Denver Broncos in 2010 and is doing very well playing for them. As of Sunday, they are within striking distance of playing in the Super Bowl! The Broncos started out poorly this season, but since Tim has taken over as Quarterback, they have won 7 of 8 games. And many of them have been won in the last quarter as an upset, or a miracle. This coming weekend they will play their second playoff game, this one against the New England Patriots. They must win 2 more Post season games to make it to the Super Bowl. That won't be easy, the teams ahead of them are really strong. But who knows!
His success has prompted Marvel Comics to create a superhero character (Super Tim) based on him. You can watch a fun video about it at http://frontrow.espn.go.com/2011/12/super-hero-emerges-from-marvelling-at-tebow/
What I like about Tim Tebow is that he isn't afraid to demonstrate his commitment to his Christian faith. In fact, he's rather bold in showing it. He used to paint scriptural references in his eye black (the black lines under the eyes of football players) until the NFL issued the 'Tebow Rule' which effective banned messages in the eye black. During one game, where Tim put John 3:16 on his eye black, he set off 92 million Google searches for that reference. That's a lot of people looking up scriptures because of Tim!
Even when people are ugly back, like they sometimes are to Christians, Tim is kind in return. A late night talk show host made public fun of Tim (using terrible profanity) when they suffered a loss in their football game on Christmas Eve. Tim's only response was this, which he tweeted, "Tough game today but what's most important is being able to celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Merry Christmas everyone GB2." (GB2 means 'God Bless' + Go Broncos' = BG2) There are apparently websites showing this hatred like tebowhaters.com and a Facebook page "I Hate Tim Tebow." But Tim is always nice back, just as Jesus would be. Tim said once, of his detractors, "I know who holds tomorrow. That's what gives me comfort in all situations, from the praise to the haters."
Some say that this mix of humility and devotion, combined with his public presence makes him like the newest Billy Graham. It's just great to watch him stand up for his beliefs! We too can be strong and do our best, but ask for help from God when we need it. We can be kind to those who are mean. We can live the gospel in spite of the critics who think we should live the way the rest of the world does.
Gregory, Sean. "Football's Leap of Faith. Does Tim Tebow win with skill, luck-- or a 'miracle'?" Time 19 December 2011: 48-49.
Meacham, Jon. "Tebow's Testimony. What his faith on the field means for the future of American Evangelicalism." Time 16 January 2012: 40-42.
January 3, 2012
Yesterday would have been my mother-in-law Winnie Johnson's 90th birthday. I hate to call her that because the term 'mother in law' is generally a negative title, yet Grandma Winnie was very dear to me. She was nothing like the stereotypical nosey, rude and pushy 'mother in law.' She was like a mother to me.
I was always impressed by how kind Winnie was to me and to everyone with whom she spent time. When I found out more about her life, I understood how she came to be such a kind and loving person. Apparently, Winnie was always self conscious and felt inferior to her friends. Her parents were Swiss immigrants who spoke German in their home. During the war with Germany, many looked down on all people who spoke German, assuming they were German. So even though Winnie's parents were Swiss, neutral in the war, there was some prejudice. Winnie's older brother asked the parents to stop speaking German.
Her mother was different than the mothers' of her friends as well. Winnie admitted later, "I very seldom ever had friends at my house because my house was so humble I was self conscious about having friends come. I was embarrassed about my mother when my friends would come. My mother dressed differently and sometimes when we would come home she would be up gathering eggs at the chicken coop or she would be working in the garden. None of my friends' parents did these kinds of things. I remember being self conscious about my mother doing that. And that I didn't have the things that my friends had. Their families had cars and when we went places they would come up and get me in their cars. I never had a car to drive—ever. I remember feeling like that. We didn't have much money and I was so worried about what my friends thought of me. High school was miserable for me."
Winnie's mother dressed very old fashioned because health problems had scarred her arms and legs, and left her with a limp. While Winnie's friend's moms' all dressed like Lucille Ball or June Cleaver in stylish dresses, Winnie's mom wore homemade, outdated long dresses with long sleeves. And Winnies' mom braided her hair and piled it on her head like they did in Switzerland. Her friends mom's all had stylish hairdos and knew how to curl and style their hair. Winnie's parents were just grateful to be in America with the gospel. They were poor but they didn't care. Their lives were hard, but had been much harder in Switzerland.
Winnie added, "It wasn't a good thing for me to be with this group (of friends) because they all had more money and they were all much more popular than I was. So it really made me feel less adequate. But they were always nice to me and we stayed friends through the years. They were the popular girls in high school: the student body officers, the class officers and the homecoming queens. They were very smart good students. I didn't go to many dances. I wouldn't say I was popular. High school was quite painful for me because my other friends were the popular girls who got all the dates. I know it was weakness in my character (that I was felt so inferior) because they were always very nice to me."
Because of Winnie's experiences feeling less than her friends, she taught her sons to treat girls carefully. When there was a school dance, Winnie had her boys ask girls to go with them who might not be asked. She encouraged her sons to open doors for girls and treat them kindly. But more than just teaching her sons to treat girls carefully, Winnie treated everyone as if they were special, important and loved. When Winnie married, she had earned a college degree and had been teaching school. She happily quit her job to raise a family. So she showed her children that they were more important to her than her status or career.
A son in law John wrote, "For Winnie, I do not know a kinder more loving individual. She has always been my role model for sweetness and thoughtfulness and true devotion to her family." A granddaughter wrote "I have always been very grateful for the concern and interest you have both (including Grandpa) shown in my life. I feel very lucky to come from such a wonderful heritage where I can find so much love."
Winnie's daughter Kathy wrote it best, writing, "Mom, your love is a tangible presence for all of us, a great strength in our lives. You, who always felt that personally you had no talents or abilities, have raised children remarkable in their abilities, each meeting life and its' challenges. Your great talent is making others feel loved. What greater talent could there be? It is the most divine of them all."
Winnie wrote that some of the hardest times in her life were when she was an insecure high school girl, feeling unimportant and unpopular. But that time helped her to see clearly the value of each person, especially insecure girls. Winnie's mom taught her that a day without problems is a day wasted because we learn so much from our problems. Winnie learned that in her own experience. Her problems in feeling inadequate helped her love and encourage others so that they (hopefully) wouldn't suffer from feelings of inadequacy as she had.
We can learn from our difficult experiences and turn them into blessings.
(Quotes were taken from Winnie's Life History, an oral history taken by Janice Johnson Stauffer in 1997, and from Vere and Winnie's 50th Anniversary Book of Remembrance, letters to them, 1997.)