Okay, I guess I'm a typical American, because I like football, baseball, and basketball. Now, luge, bobsled, slopestyle, halfpipe - not as much. But, like millions of others, there's something about the winter Olympics that drew me in to watch sports that I know little about. It's because of the drama; the world's best on the world stage, with much of their life invested in what will be only minutes of their life, giving it all for the glory of winning or the agony of losing.
I had 18 hours in the city of Rome. That's how long it was between my flight connections to Africa. I decided not to waste that time sleeping in the airport when I could be seeing one of the world's great cities. Right? And, my missionary friend, Dave, was kind enough to be my chauffeur and guide. With his help, I got a whirlwind tour that included the Coliseum, the Sistine Chapel, and some beautiful piazzas. But the highlight of my day in Rome was my visit to the Catacombs, those ancient caverns that wind beneath the streets of Rome. Dave's been there many times so he said he'd wait while I went in. Well, here were the caverns where some of the first Christians hid from the Roman soldiers who would take them to their execution for believing in Christ. And here's where they carved in the walls the ancient symbols of their faith - like the cross and the sign of the fish. Those symbols are still there as a silent testimony to their faithfulness. And here in the walls, they buried countless loved ones who'd been torn to pieces by lions in the Coliseum all because they would not renounce Christ for Caesar. As I emerged from those Catacombs, Dave said, "Well, what did you think?" All I could say was, "Our faith is very, very expensive."
Jenny was a counselor with a student group we had taken to a youth organization conference at the New Jersey Shore. She was walking along the Boardwalk enjoying all the attractions, and suddenly she heard what she thought was a scream. It seemed to be coming from the ocean. Now, it was night and it was, of course, too dark to see out there. So Jenny ran down the steps, across the beach, and to the water's edge.
Recently, a friend of mine had a ringside seat on a family of birds. They actually decided to nest under the roof on the porch. The fun part was watching the birth and development of those baby birds. My friend actually got to see them hatching out and then settling down into their nest. They all fit in there so nicely - at first. See, Mama kept filling their open mouths with more and more food, and the little birdies didn't stay little! They grew and the nest seemed to shrink. As it got more and more crowded, each baby did more and more wiggling around to kind of keep his position in the nest. Then they feathered out and they forgot about all of them sitting in the nest ever again! Well, they began to perch on the edges of the nest until they were pushed off the edge by their siblings in a battle for whatever food Mama brought. One by one, as crowding pushed those little birds to the edge - and then over the edge - they were forced to fly or die. They decided to fly. The last nester stayed in the nest for actually another full week, being fed as an only child by Mama Bird. Finally, Mama must have gotten disgusted with her nest-addicted child. She quit feeding him. First, there was a lot of squawking and fussing, and then even he abandoned the nest to finally touch the sky.
All of a sudden The Son of God was in theaters all over the place. Actually, a movie by that name - Son of God. And based on its opening weekend, it was drawing a crowd. Of course that was not the first time something like that had happened. "The Passion of the Christ" turned out to be a blockbuster, too. Who would have guessed that?
Our local high school band worked hard to put on some great performances at our football games. I know. Our daughter was one of the trumpet players. I also remember going to band competitions at different schools. We have some precious memories of sitting on the top bleacher with a wind chill that would have made a polar bear go inside. My teeth were chattering loud enough to be in the percussion section! Our band also got to perform in several local parades. But, there's just a handful of high school bands that get invited to play in one of America's really big parades. You know, like the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. You know, the Mountain Home, Arkansas, band - not too far from us - they had that thrill.
It was one of those years when my New York Giants decided they didn't want to show up for the playoffs that year. Oh, the Super Bowl was always in their stadium, but sadly no blue and white on the field. The odds makers had been predicting that Denver was going to win by one point. They lost 43-8.
I remember speaking at a baseball chapel years ago, and our boys were actually blown away. I mean, it's a while back, but they got to go with me to the Yankees chapel. And they said, "Oh, there's Don Mattingly!" Yeah, we're talking Hall of Fame here. He was a hero around our house since our kids were little. He was a Yankees first baseman. His home runs and batting average and consistent fielding made him possibly one of baseball's all time greats.
There's reality TV. And then there's the real reality TV called the Olympics. And, you know, when you watch that, you see the real deal. I mean, you've got the triple axles on the ice, you've got amazing jumps on the ski slopes, you've got those gravity-defying flights of the snowboarders. Oh, yeah, and the falls and the crashes.
Hooper Bay, Alaska! It's not the first remote place we went with the outreach teams of Native young people that we go with, but it's a tough one. Each Summer of Hope, it's our privilege to take these teams of Indian and Native Alaskan spiritual warriors to the reservations and the villages where America's most devastated young people live and die too young. The suicide rate among young Native Americans is something like three or four times that of the rest of America's young. And in some places in Alaska, it's twenty times greater. Hooper Bay, Alaska, is one of the hardest places in this country to grow up. We had to take our team there.