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Monday, April 25, 2016

Second Surfer

My wife and I spent the last two weeks on the island of Kauai.  We don’t get very many vacations but this year we decided to rent a big house and invite several family members to join us. We really enjoy our family and what better place to have fun and bond then a place many people simply call “Paradise”.

Halfway into our vacation we visited one of the most beautiful beaches in Kauai called Secret Beach. The water changes shades of blue all day long and the sand glistens pristine white like a soft summer cloud. The only problem with Secret Beach (besides finding the steep trail to get there) is that the ocean is always really rough with huge waves, so only the top surfers in Kauai attempt to handle those treacherous waves.

We were only there for a few minutes when I spotted a young female surfer girl putting on a tremendous show. She was riding the huge waves like she was born on a board and was obviously a professional. As she started paddling back out I noticed there was a second surfer, also female, also extremely impressive. But there was something different about the second surfer. She too was shredding the gnarly waves but when she finished her ride…she only used one arm to pull herself back onto her board. In fact, she only used one arm to paddle back out as well. That’s when it dawned on me that I was watching Bethany Hamilton, the famous female surfer with only one arm.

I continued watching this amazing surfing exhibition and grabbed my phone to take a few photos. When they finally wore themselves out, Bethany came walking right up to where we were sitting on a beach towel. She was waving and of course I thought she was waving at me (stupid me), but she was actually waving at her husband who was standing behind us with their new little baby. No wonder she was smiling…she’s a professional surfer with a handsome husband and a beautiful baby boy.

But if you google Bethany Hamilton, you’ find out there is a lot more to her than her surfing prowess. She doesn’t like to talk about the shark attack that happened when she was only 13. On her website she says, “It's not because the ordeal was so painful, it’s because it takes the focus away from what really matters - the healing power of faith”. Bethany says that her faith in God played a crucial role in her physical, emotional and spiritual recovery. "I think God has a reason for our pain and He will always carry us through the hard times". Bethany says that her faith gave her the courage to get back on her board just one month after the shark attack, win a national title two years later and eventually become a pro surfer. What's more, she uses her story (including a movie made about her called Soul Surfer) to inspire people all over the world to never give up on their dreams despite their disabilities…and to never give up on God. 

I admit I was really impressed with Bethany’s surfing skills, but after reading about her on line, it’s obvious her faith is the most impressive thing about her. She is active in the “I Am Second” movement and recently made a video on YouTube where she says, “I wake up every day and try to honor God in everything that I do.” Who would have thought that riding a perfect wave in a place called paradise would be just one more way to honor God!
I’ve learned that life is a lot like surfing. 
When you get caught in the impact zone, you need to get right back up 
because you never know what’s over the next wave. 
And if you have faith, anything is possible, anything at all.
~ Bethany Hamilton 

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Power of Prayer

In 1984, at the age of 14, I became a golfer.  That was the year our family moved to a small town in central Illinois and my parents bought a home on a golf course making it very easy for me to take up the game.  I met my first friends in that town playing golf.  One Sunday afternoon one of my new friends invited me over to his grandmother’s home for lunch. His grandmother’s house was full of people gathered around the television watching golf. I had no idea golf was a televised sport or that people loved it so much they would gather to watch it like the Super Bowl. 

The memory of this particular Sunday afternoon stands out very clearly because the tournament being televised was “The Masters”. What would become more important later in life was that the tournament being played was held at Augusta National Golf Club. I don’t really remember much about the golfers on TV that day but the golf course I was being introduced to had me completely mesmerized. It looked like a fantasy golf course with impossibly long holes, diabolical greens, powdered sugar bunkers, and hidden creeks all surrounded by a magical forest of pine trees and exotic flowering bushes. If someone would have told me the course used indoor/outdoor carpet instead of grass for the fairways and greens, I would have believed without the slightest incredulity.

As my passion for playing golf continued so did my interest in the Masters golf tournament and Augusta National Golf Club. I would come to learn that Augusta National was possibly the most exclusive club in the world and the Masters the most coveted of all tournaments to win. Every year for the rest of my life the month of April would be synonymous with the Masters.

Tickets to attend the Masters tournament are nearly impossible to get.  At one time you could only get them if you or your family had annual passes, which were passed down from generation-to-generation. In recent years the members of Augusta National revised their ticket policy so the likelihood of getting tickets would change from impossible to highly unlikely by creating a lottery system open to every person on the planet regardless of their interest in the game or knowledge of Masters history. Over the last decade or so the lottery process was moved to an online system so prospective attendees could easily register for tickets. I have attempted to get tickets this way for many years and I would always ask friends, family and co-workers to register on my behalf. I always wondered if any of these people would actually give me the tickets if they were selected. To me it would be the emotional equivalent of a surrogate mother handing over her newborn baby to someone else to raise. 

I will always consider 2015 to be the luckiest year of my life because it is the year my favorite co-worker of all time, Ann Schuetz, won the opportunity to buy tickets through the lottery system. She was selected to purchase 4 tickets to the Wednesday practice round for the 2016 Masters. Ann called me immediately to let me know she was selected and to offer me the tickets. I was finally going to the Masters!

Oh yeah, 2015 will also be remembered as the year my wife gave birth to our beautiful baby girl, Jaden. 

Now back to my story about going to the Masters….

Last Wednesday, around 8:04 A.M. I walked through the gates of Augusta National with my Mom, Dad and 9-year-old son, Tony. I choked back tears when I saw the golf course for the first time. My mother was unable to choke them back.  I knew her tears were for me and the joy I was feeling having arrived at a place that meant so much to me. At last, her son’s dream had come true.

When we were driving to Augusta National that morning I wondered to myself what one thing would happen that day that would stand out as my favorite memory. I felt certain the memory would come from seeing a particular golf hole that had been etched in my memory for 20 or 30 years. Maybe it would be seeing “Amen Corner” holes 11 through 13, which have been the triumph and tragedy of so many competitors since the tournament began in 1934. Maybe it would be seeing Arnold Palmer wearing his green jacket or Tom Watson playing in the Par 3 Contest. 

There was one thing I was really hoping would happen at Augusta National that I had prayed for many times throughout my life. With me that day was my 1986 Sports Illustrated with Jack Nicklaus on the cover.  I was hoping I would have the opportunity to hold it out and have Jack take it from me and sign it.  I realized the likelihood of this happening was remote. I didn’t even know if Jack Nicklaus was going to be there. Why would he? Jack was 76 years old and had not played as a competitor for many years. There was a chance he would play in the annual Par 3 Contest held on Wednesdays. Often, but not always, many former champions return to attend the Champions Dinner and play in this Wednesday event. 

I pray regularly, but always before boarding an airplane. When I got to LAX to fly to Atlanta my prayer was primarily to ask God to keep us safe. I may have also asked God to include Jack Nicklaus in the field at the Par 3 Contest because I assume heaven is from where the invitations come.

Around 3:00 P.M. nearly all of the players had come and gone from the first tee and it looked as though my Sports Illustrated would continue to go un-autographed.  All of a sudden down the path to the first tee came Gary Player, the legendary Black Knight from South Africa who had won the Masters in 1961, 1974 and 1978. Following Gary down the path was Tom Watson a two-time winner of the Masters in 1977 and 1981. My prospects were looking good. All of the groups that day were threesomes and what better person to join Gary and Tom but the legend himself. 

Then I saw him! He was wearing a yellow golf shirt just as he had 30 years earlier when he won his sixth Masters title. Was this fate? Would he sign my magazine? As he came down the path I saw he was signing autographs, but not for everyone.  He was moving fast and the crowd was enormous. Would he make it down to me or just walk to the first tee? He moved closer and I held out my Sports Illustrated. He saw it but never looked up at me. Then he grabbed it. For only a second or two he paused to look at the cover. Then he signed it. Maybe it was my imagination but it looked like he was taking his time writing his name. I wondered if he appreciated that someone would have saved this particular magazine to have it signed on the 30th anniversary of him winning his sixth Masters. I will never know but I’d like to think so.

On our drive back from Augusta to Atlanta, I was thinking about the question to myself about what one thing would be my favorite memory from the day.  Getting Jack’s autograph was high on the list, but it had tough competition.
I took a picture of my son Tony with Rory Mcllroy. In the picture Tony is holding the current issue of Golf Digest with Rory on the cover, which he had just signed.  My son wondered why I waited 30 years to get an autograph on a magazine cover?  “Look how easy it is, Dad!”

  • We saw the spot Bubba Watson hit is famous shot out of the woods on the 10th hole to win the 2012 Masters in a playoff. 
  • We walked the most famous nine holes in golf (10 through 18) in the late afternoon and had the place practically to ourselves. 
  • We watched a group of five Masters Champions that included Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth, Raymond Floyd and Vijay Singh warming up on the practice range while eating pimento and cheese sandwiches that only cost $1.50 each. 
  • I heard nine famous “Augusta Roars” given each time a player scored a hole-in-one during the Par 3 Contest.  Nine is a record number of holes-in-one, five being the previous record.
So what was the best thing? Well, in a way it was none of these things individually and all of these things collectively. It was a day with my parents and my son sharing a lifelong dream. My parents introduced me to the game of golf as a child and now I am sharing it with my son. Our day at Augusta National was both a spiritual and physical passing down from one generation to another and to another again the love for a great sport. Golf has given me so much in life including a college scholarship, great friendships, job opportunities and career advancement.  

I don’t know if my son will choose to be a golfer or become passionate about the game of golf but whatever he chooses to do I hope it is something he loves as much as I love golf.  Whatever it is I hope it is something we can share together all of our lives and that he can share with his children someday, too.
Patience is bitter, but it’s fruit is sweet.
~ Aristotle

Monday, April 4, 2016

Friday Night at the Movies

My wife and I were really looking forward to celebrating our 21st wedding anniversary on Saturday. So when I went to bed on Friday night I was reliving in my mind all the wonderful moments we have shared over the years. I went to bed smiling but woke up at midnight to a nightmare. My wife was bent over with severe stomach pain, shaking uncontrollably and asking me to take her to the hospital.

I threw on my clothes and got her to Mission Hospital within 15 minutes. I’ve actually had a lot of practice rushing her to the hospital so let me just say that I’m getting pretty good at it! (Just trying to find some kind of positive note at the time.) When we arrived the emergency room was totally packed. Apparently Friday nights at the ER are as popular as Friday nights at the movies. It was so crowded there were no chairs left, but we found a small bench in a nearby hallway and waited for her name to be called. And wait we did… five hours… as it wasn’t until after 5:00am that my wife was finally treated by a doctor.

Sitting in the Emergency Room for so many hours, watching all the different types of people come and go, was more than just interesting, it was enlightening.
  • First, there was the middle aged woman whose hair and make-up had obviously been severely neglected, except for the bright red lipstick she was wearing. I have a feeling her female friend with her helped her to apply it at the last minute.
  • Then there was the twenty something guy with a banged up and heavily bandaged ankle and his buddy helping him hobble in, but at the same time making fun of his gimpy walk.
  • Then there was the young mother, alone with her tiny little three-year old son. The boy was really sick and kept having to throw up every few minutes, but he was trying hard to be brave for his mommy and not cry. I think his mom was in more pain over his pain than he was.
  • Then there was the teenaged girl with the dyed blond hair and darkly painted eyes who was obviously high on drugs. Her female friend wrapped her in a blanket and lowered her carefully into a wheelchair while the blond just kept staring straight ahead with a sad tragic smile on her face.
  • Lastly there was the young Hispanic man with his elderly mother. At one point he held on to her tightly and walked her over to the nurse’s window and explained in a panic that she was about to pass out. The nurse told him to find her a chair and he freaked out and started cursing loudly at the doctors and nurses. The nurse remained calm and helped him lower her into a chair and fortunately within about a minute they were able to take her in for treatment.
I have been to the emergency room with my wife many times and I’ve noticed that in recent years they always have a security guard stationed at the ER. I think it’s a good idea because it’s easy to see how people can get worked up and highly emotional when their loved ones are in pain. But I noticed something else as well… nobody in that room was alone. Every single person had a loving companion with them, helping them, caring for them, worrying about them, making sure they got the help they needed. If you want to find an example of people modeling the love and compassion that Jesus showed when he walked the earth, just visit any hospital…at any time… on any day. It’s much more moving than a movie!

Love is staying up all night with a sick child - or a healthy adult.
           ~ David Frost