Ten more minutes and my wife would have never been born. The story that changed everything is hope for any of us who love someone who's making some very bad choices. My wife's grandfather, Bill, had given up on life. Trashing a profitable career for the alcohol and cocaine he could not resist. He was labeled with a prison record, he was penniless, he was hopeless and he was suicidal.
Ian is one of the more amazing people I've met. The people who knew him publicly, when they were with him privately it was a shock. He had been the leader of Youth for Christ's highly effective ministry in New Zealand. As you would converse with him, you would quickly learn that Ian had a stutter - which sometimes made it difficult just for him to get through a sentence. It was noticeable, but it wasn't important. I mean, Ian was a godly, magnetic person. But when you saw him in action before a crowd - as I did at a national youth convention with 3,000 teenagers - get ready for a shock. I mean, I felt bad, wonder-ing how he was going to communicate effectively to all these teenagers with a stutter like that. To my amazement, I discovered there suddenly was no stutter. His speech was perfect! He emceed, he preached flawlessly. That's what was so amazing about Ian - something happened to him when he had to speak well. And to you.
He's a real American hero! He received America's highest military honor, the Congressional Medal of Honor, and He earned it, believe me. It was November 14, 1965, Major Bruce Crandall flew a Huey helicopter assigned to lift troops into Ia Drang, which was to become known as the "Valley of Death". His mission to deliver the troops was done. But pretty soon he realized the plight of those troops. There were 450 American soldiers hugely outnumbered by 2,000 enemy troops. Major Crandall began flying into that Valley of Death to bring out the wounded and to bring in ammunition. Before that day was over, he had flown for fourteen hours straight-22 flights barraged with enemy fire. It took three different choppers to do it all; two were too damaged to continue. One officer said, "Without Major Crandall, our battalion would almost surely have been overrun." Crandall simply said, "They knew we would come if they needed it no matter what." That's heroism.
I looked, I blinked, I looked again, and I still wasn't sure what I was seeing. We were driving next to a railroad track and I saw this vehicle moving along the railroad track, but it wasn't a train. It was a pickup truck. Now, he's moving right along the track like a train, but he's a truck? Let's see, trucks have tires, railroads have tracks. Tires don't ride on tracks. I see a problem here. Well, as I looked closer I realized what was going on. This was a maintenance truck for the railroad, specially modified to run on tracks. It was mounted with these special train wheels extending out from both the front and the back of the pickup. Kind of cool! So because he had been specially outfitted, he was able to go where he normally could never go!
In much of America, spring announces its arrival with an explosion of color. Those yellow forsythia flowers start popping out on bushes, the daffodils start to poke their heads through the ground, and the trees around our headquarters suddenly color the landscape with those delicate white flowers. Now, my wife, who I think was a certified plantologist, told me that those are ornamental pear trees. When I asked her about the "ornamental" part, she pointed out to me that they produce beautiful flowers, but these pear trees don't produce any pears. I guess that's why they're ornamental.
Professional tennis star-a nun. What? Sounds like two different stories doesn't it? In this case, it's the same life story. Andrea Jaeger first picked up a tennis racket at the age of eight. By 14, she was a tennis pro. Soon she was challenging tennis greats like Chris Evert and Tracy Austin; she was ranked number two in the world. Then came a serious shoulder injury that required seven surgeries and she was forced to retire. She took her prize money, she moved to Colorado, and started a charitable foundation that helps sick, abused, and at-risk children. So she became an Episcopal nun, and she was actually burying her life in a ministry to needy children. According to USA Today, after her injury she was told, "Your life's over. You've failed. You'll never amount to anything." Oh, were they wrong. The article on her new life concluded this way: "Her name will never be etched on Grand Slam hardware, but she can live with that. 'It's like I have kids' names in my heart,' and she says, 'That is life's trophy.'"
One summer we took some time out at a quiet little house in the country. My wife was a country girl who always loved the country. I'm a city boy who has learned to love the country. We had some really special days there. And at the end of the day, we would open all the windows in our room, climb into bed, and listen to the symphony - God's Philharmonic. The crickets and tree toads and tree frogs would combine their voices in this beautiful - and loud - moonlight serenade. Didn't hear that too much on the south side of Chicago. I feel peaceful just telling you about it again. My wife caught one of those tree frogs one day and showed it to City Boy here. I almost had to look twice. I was amazed at how tiny that frog was. I don't even know if he was like as big as a nickel. But as my wife said, "He sure can make noise. One of these guys is louder than several crickets at full volume!" So that night, I fell asleep to the big sounds of those very little guys.
Boy, at Christmastime I think they're some of the busiest people there are – the men and women in those brown trucks that fly through our streets -- the UPS people. And countless Post Office carriers are carrying so many packages to so many places in such a short time! I'll bet they sleep well, but not a whole lot at that time of year. As important as their service is, we don't make a big deal of the deliverer when he comes to the door. "Oh, hello delivery person, you are the greatest! What a guy! Tell me about the wife and the kids. Come in for dinner, you awesome dude (or "dudette")." No, we know he didn't make the gift. She didn't buy the gift. They only delivered the gift!
You sit there staring at the phone for forty-five minutes. There's this girl you really want to ask out, but every time you try to pick up the phone to call her, you freeze. Finally, you realize she probably isn't going to call you, and the phone isn't going to call her all by itself. So, you punch in her number. Are you still afraid? Yes. But courage is not the absence of fear; it's the disregard of it! So here goes! Yes, that actually was my life at one time.
For me, I guess it started with comic books, then the old black-and-white TV series. Then it graduated to the big screen as the subject of several blockbuster movies. "Look, up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! (Yep, you said it didn't you?) It's Superman!" Now, one of the Hollywood stories of the Man of Steel in more recent years is called "Superman Returns." His return is from a five-year absence from earth, and during that time, reporter Lois Lane writes a major article called, "Why the World Doesn't Need Superman." She makes this statement: "The world doesn't need a savior, and neither do I." Upon his return to earth, Superman visits Lois Lane and tells her, "There's something I want to show you." He picks her up and takes her on a flying trip over a long stretch of the planet. He says, "Listen. Do you hear it?" She hears nothing. Superman then makes this dramatic statement to the skeptical reporter: "I hear everything. I know you wrote that the world doesn't need a Savior, but every day I hear people crying for one."