Category Archives: Biographies

Have You Launched Out into the Deep? Are You Okay, or Are You Adrift?

Sometimes we “launch out into the deep,” not because we’ve been called by Jesus to go with him, but simply because we’re passionate about something.  This was true for Richard Sharp and Tami Ashcraft, who decided to sail more than 4,000 miles from Tahiti to San Diego in September of 1983.  In this terrifying true adventure, memorialized in 2018 as the movie Adrift, we learn what happened to the young couple. I don’t want to entirely ruin the story by telling you everything about the ending (so skip this if you don’t want to know whether or not they survived), but the movie is super impacting! Just three weeks into their voyage, they were caught in Hurricane Raymond, a monstrous storm that churned across the ocean with winds up to 140 mph, creating 40-foot waves. On October 12, Richard (who was ten years older and a more experienced sailor), told Tami to go below deck and take a break, but while she was below deck, the yacht capsized, and Tami was knocked unconscious. The remainder of the movie describes the horrendous 41-day saga of being adrift at sea, trying to get back to land and civilization, hoping for rescue . . . being bypassed . . . feeling utterly lost and abandoned . . .                                      and finally being found and rescued! There’s something profoundly effective in vicariously suffering through harrowing life experiences via films. Do you know what I mean? We can gain wisdom and compassion simply by empathizing with the victories and defeats of fellow human beings. I could almost feel my face sunburning and imagined savoring the indescribable succulence of an apple after almost 6 weeks of surviving on tiny rations of canned food and peanut butter. Experiences (even vicarious ones) like being Adrift in the vast Pacific, thousands of miles from home, cause me to search my soul. Am I sitting placidly on shore avoiding work (and responsibility), or have I launched out into the deep with my Savior? What about you? Have you launched out into the deep with Jesus . . . or have you headed out into deep waters due to some passion and now find yourself adrift, feeling lost, abandoned, and afraid for your life?Whether we’re called to go or driven by our personal passions, surviving a life-threatening trauma changes us forever. But, thankfully, as the saying goes, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Rather than ending her sailing career, Tami became a wiser, better sailor, and she’s still sailing today. Tami  likens her tragic boating experience to being in a car crash: Most people keep riding in cars even after they’ve been in a serious accident. If you fall off a horse, get up and keep riding, right? Her example is most inspiring!   Tami did not sense it was the Holy Spirit leading her on her painful journey back to land, but she definitely felt an inner voice guiding her. Personally, based on Matthew 5:44-46, I believe the Lord was intervening in her life to draw her to himself, but you can come to your own conclusions. Regardless of her situation, I know the Lord will guide us if we ask him, whether or not we’ve launched out into the deep in response to his prompting or we’ve headed out on our own and are now adrift. So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed or adrift, please reach out to God for help because,The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him . . .We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! (Daniel 9:9,18b-19a, NIV). If you ask him for help, I know he will!

The 15:17 to Paris

This Sunday is Veteran’s Day, and if you haven’t seen The 15:17 to Paris, I wish you would. It’s a thrilling, very inspirational PG-13, 2018 account of what happened when Ayoub El Khazzani, armed with an AKM assault rifle and 270 rounds of ammunition, opened fire on the Thalys train #9364 running from Amsterdam to Paris at 15:17 on August 21, 2015 with 554 passengers aboard.  One of the unique aspects of this movie is that director, Clint Eastwood, allowed the heroes to play themselves, as well as many of the real-life train crew, medical response team, and policemen!

In particular, the film follows the lives of a group of three life-time friends who had all met as kids attending Freedom Christian School in Fair Oaks, California: Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, and Anthony Sadler. As they grow up, they keep connected, and eventually the trio heads out for a three-week trip around Europe while Stone is stationed in Portugal with the U.S. Air Force, Skarlatos has just returned from a deployment in Afghanistan, and Sadler is a student at Sacramento State University.  After visiting Rome, Venice, Munich, Berlin, and Amsterdam, they make a rather last-minute decision to catch the 15:17 train to Paris,  and “just happen” to be aboard when the terrorist opens fire.  Mark Moogalian, an amazingly courageous fifty-one-year-old American-born professor, was the first responder to confront the gunman, risking his own life in an effort to save his wife and the rest of the people from disaster. However, it also took every ounce of bravery, training, expertise, and loyalty of the three devoted friends that day to thwart what could have been a terrible mass murder. As Isabelle Moogalian later stated, her husband was a hero, but also: “Thankfully we had the … military guys on the train. Otherwise we’d all be dead.” For their valor, the three heroes (and Chris Norman, a British businessman who joined the fight), received the Legion of Honour from French president François Hollande—which is the highest French order for military and civil merits—as well as other high honors from the U.S. Army and Belgium. Although the film hasn’t received much critical acclaim and only got a 5.1 IMDb rating, but I think it was an A+ story that was beautifully done. I wonder if part of rating had to do with our political climate, which downplays the valor of our soldiers, or is biased against anyone trying to cut into Hollywood business. I hope not. Regardless, it’s a great story with a great message, which is that we all need to take care of each other, even when it hurts!  According to Wikipedia, “All three men are described as sharing “a deeply religious background and a belief in service to their community.” This comes out in the movie, particularly with Spencer Stone, who quotes the Prayer of Saint Francis several times.

I want to thank our military for defending our country, and I am also thankful for military personnel around the world who defend the cause of liberty, justice, and peace for their citizens and throughout the world. Good government is a gift!I’m also grateful for Christians who risk their lives so that others may live.

May The Prayer of Saint Francis be our prayer too:

“Lord make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy

“O divine master grant that I may
not so much seek to be consoled as to console
to be understood as to understand
To be loved as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it’s in dying that we are born to eternal life
Amen”

And he [Jesus] said to them all, ‘If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it‘” (Luke 9:23-24).

Tommy Walker: Pursuing the Way of Peace

When you’re in L.A., there are many outstanding churches you might want to visit on a Sunday morning, but when we were there last week with our oldest son’s family, Alan’s first choice was to visit Christian Assembly, where Tommy Walker is the worship leader. Over the course of his career, Tommy has composed 85+ songs, recorded 25 albums, and has 247 recordings listed on Song Select. His works include many songs that our family band played over the years, such as He Knows My Name, That’s Why We Praise Him, Joy, Joy, Joy, and Sweet, Sweet Presence of Jesus.
Tommy is an outstanding musician and has worked with national leaders like Franklin Graham, Rick Warren, and Promise Keepers, but what Alan loves best is not Tommy’s great giftedness, but his amazing humility. Although he’s been offered deals by recording companies and publishers, he has intentionally pursued a more quiet path with his wife Robin, continuing his ministry as the worship leader at the same church for twenty-eight years, where his four children have grown up. His ambition is to glorify God, not himself, and that won’t catapult you into Hollywood fame and fortune. However, I believe Tommy Walker is spiritually rich, and he’s definitely famous in the eyes of those of us who’ve been blessed by his ministry!
       By the way, the message (by Pastor Tom Hughs) was also excellent. He’s working through a series called Anxious for Nothing http://cachurch.com/sermons/october-20-21-weekend-services/ and last week offered this advice for keeping CALM in the midst of crisis:
C: Celebrate God’s goodness and blessings
A: Ask God for help
L: Leave your concerns with God
M: Meditate on God and his Word
      Are you anxious today? If you’ve got a few minutes, please allow yourself to be calmed by Tommy Walker singing “When I Don’t Know What to Do.”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RMXEwwhF6pg

“Lord I surrender all
To Your strong and faithful hand
In everything I will give thanks to You
I’ll just trust Your perfect plan

When I don’t know what to do
I’ll lift my hands
When I don’t know what to say
I’ll speak Your praise
When I don’t know where to go
I’ll run to Your throne
When I don’t know what to think
I’ll stand on Your truth
When I don’t know what to do

Lord I surrender all
Though I’ll never understand
All the mysteries around me
I’ll just trust Your perfect plan

Bridge

As I bow my knee
Send Your perfect peace
Send Your perfect peace Lord
As I lift my hands
Let Your healing come
Let Your healing come to me”

“Strong Christians are not strong people, they just know where to run.” —Tommy Walker

Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).

P.S.—I didn’t think of this when I first wrote the article, but studying Tommy Walker’s life makes me believe he has had to resist Satan’s temptations to “bow down and worship” him. (See Meditating on the Commands of Christ 2). I’ve never had to give up fame or fortune (because I’ve never had either), but Tommy seems to have avoided a lot of the common traps that ruin the lives of many gifted people!

Will Brett Kavanaugh Be Confirmed?

If you’ve been distressed by all the debate over whether or not to confirm Judge Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court, consider watching Marshall this weekend. Marshall is the inspiring true story of Thurgood Marshall, 96th justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and our first African-American justice.  He served in the Supreme Court for thirty-four years, from 1967-1991, retiring during the administration of George H.W. Bush and succeeded by Clarance Thomas.  Marshall was a champion for the oppressed, a crusader for the cause of equality, and a brilliant lawyer. Over the course of his career, he argued 32 times before Supreme Court and won 29 times! The film keys in on Thurgood’s courageous and career-defining case defending Joseph Spell, who was accused of raping his socialite employer, Eleanor Strubing in The State of Connecticut v. Joseph Spell From research, I gather that the movie is quite accurate except in two points: Sam Friedman had already been practicing for fourteen years, had a “stellar reputation as a trial lawyer,” and was a brave man.* Also, Roger Friedman (movie critic and nephew to Sam Friedman) stated, “It is unimaginable that Marshall, a man who was highly intelligent and educated, would have ever addressed Sam that way [using F***].” Friedman also reported that “his family cringed when they heard it at a private screening.”* Indeed, my only problem with the movie was the bad language, which apparently was unfairly included! Come on, Hollywood! Let’s elevate, not degrade. I’m not sure how you feel about the impassioned testimony of Christine Blasey Ford (and as a woman, I tend to believe women), but after watching Marshall, it does occur to me that emotion doesn’t necessarily translate into truth.  Also, just for the record, I’d like to point out that although Marshall Thurmond is one of my heroes, here are a few bits from his youth, mostly gleaned from Wikipedia:

“Marshall showed a talent for law from an early age, becoming a key member of his school’s debate team and memorizing the U.S. Constitution (which was actually assigned to him as punishment for misbehaving in class).”  While in college at Lincoln University: “Initially he did not take his studies seriously, and was suspended twice for hazing and pranks against fellow students.”

Among his classmates was the poet Langston Hughes, who was a lifelong friend but described Marshall as “rough and ready, loud and wrong.”  “His marriage to Vivien Buster Burey in September 1929 encouraged him to take his studies seriously, and he graduated from Lincoln with honors (cum laude) Bachelor of Arts in Humanities, with a major in American literature and philosophy.” In 1933 he graduated first in his class from Howard University School of Law.

I’m thinking that we’ll never truly know whether or not Brett Kavanaugh is innocent of his alleged sins against women as a college student, but I will say that it appears he settled down after marrying and has had a pretty impeccable record since graduating from college (as was also true of Thurmond Marshall).

With just minutes to go before the vote is taken, I would like to encourage us with words originally spoken three thousand years ago by one of the world’s most beloved kings, King David of Israel. I think they’re words most of us can echo:

Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions: according to thy mercy remember thou me for thy goodness’ sake, O Lord” (Psalm 25:7).

*http://www.historyvshollywood.com/reelfaces/marshall/

(Just FYI: One of Marshall’s great grandparents was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo but brought to America as a slave back in the 1800’s. His father was a steward and his mother was a teacher. When Marshall was little, his father took the kids to watch court cases and debated with them afterward, and Marshall became an able debater. He said his father never told him to become a lawyer, but he turned him into one! Regardless of our background, we can become upstanding members of our communities and inspire our children. Let’s do it!)

 

Have You Heard The Music of Silence?

“In my opinion, the only way forward in this world is with faith, which not only explains the reason for life but also fills it with joy and hope. Faith transforms what would be a tragedy into a marvelous story with a happy ending. If all of this is reflected in my singing, how happy that would make me.” —Andrea Bocelli Do you have a favorite singer? My mother requested that Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman’s rendition of “Time to Say Goodbye” would be played at her funeral, and ever since I’ve thought they have the most hauntingly beautiful voices in the world. So, I was delighted to discover that a movie has been made about this amazing Italian singer’s life. It’s an extremely emotional but inspirational story.  I always wondered how Andrea Bocelli happened to have a voice so full of passion and warmth but for some reason had never realized that he was blind…or that his faith in God had helped him overcome his blindness. His parents were advised to abort Bocelli before he was even born, warning that he was likely to have multiple birth defects. However, his parents disregarded the surgeon’s advice. He was born with congenital glaucoma and became blind at twelve, yet today he’s one of the world’s greatest opera singers and has sold over 80 million records!  The Music of Silence tells the story of his birth to his incredible rise to fame by 2000 (although he’s still actively singing in the present). It’s a beautiful story of faith and love. I was a little sorry I did research, because his life from 2000 to the present is not as lovely, but I suspect he feels the same way, because the movie ends very happily around the turn of the century.  As the mother of a musician, I was especially intrigued by the title, The Music of Silence, and what that meant. Bocelli’s maestro explained how music can be found in silence this way:  “You [speaking to his blind protégé, Bocelli] have a great advantage, you’re already familiar with sounds. They guide your steps through life. But the music of silence will be your guide through the interior of yourself. And that, which you discover, you will express through the beautiful perfection of song.”  And that he does! I smiled when Celine Dion was quoted as saying, “If God would have a singing voice, he must sound a lot like Andrea Bocelli.” I have definitely thought that if the Lord would give me any voice when I get to heaven, I would like to sound like Andrea Bocelli! (Or, maybe Sarah Brightman if I’m supposed to sound like a woman. 🙂  ) Even if you’re not a big fan of opera, I’ll bet you find yourself inspired and encouraged by watching The Music of Silence, the story of how one young man overcame one of the world’s most difficult challenges and became one of the world’s greatest singers!  These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).  For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:4-5). If you want to hear Andrea Bocelli singing “Time to Say Goodbye with Sarah Brightman,” it can be found here:  https://video.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?fr=yhs-pty-pty_maps&hsimp=yhs-pty_maps&hspart=pty&p=sarah+brightman+singing#id=1&vid=68f961961443db9fb4c62c25d24f8778&action=click

Whom Would You Nominate As The Greatest Showman on Earth?

Did you ever attend a circus when you were young (or older)?  If so, and you’re looking for a light-hearted, highly rated (IMDb 7.7), family friendly (PG) musical this summer, you might enjoy The Greatest Showman, starring Hugh Jackman and based (quite loosely) on the life of P.T. Barnum. Can you remember what you first wished to become when you were little?

My oldest son, who’s now a managing engineer for LinkedIn, had as his first ambition (at the tender age of three) the desire to be garbage collector, because he thought there was nothing more exciting than the banging and clattering he heard while watching a powerful garbage truck latch on to huge dumpsters, hoist them high in the air, and empty their contents into the truck’s yawning belly.       However, when I was a little girl, I could think of nothing more glorious than to be one of those beautiful women who’d “float through the air with the greatest of ease, this daring young (wo)man on the flying trapeze.”  Going to the circus was the highlight of my family’s summers back in the early 1950’s, and I felt quite ambivalent when the Barnum & Bailey Circus closed down on May 21, 2017 after 146 years of continuous operation! As a little girl, I didn’t consider how risqué some of the costumes were (which would also be an issue for anybody who wants to watch the movie),  nor did I think about racism, or the possibility of animals being mistreated, or people being exploited because of their unusual appearance, but such concerns really did cause the decline and eventual demise of circuses. Nevertheless, for nearly 150 years, traveling circuses such as P.T. Barnum’s “Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan, and Hippodrome” were a centerpiece of American entertainment and culture, and Barnum’s circus really did come to be known as the “greatest traveling show on earth.” I don’t want to ruin anything by telling you too much of the story, but I do want to correct a couple of fictions just in case you—like me—prize loyalty and faithfulness. Barnum married  Charity, whom he always loved dearly. He wrote that when they married, he “became the husband of one of the best women in the world,”    and she was his bedrock throughout their marriage until she died in 1873. The real Jenny Lind (known as “The Swedish Nightengale”) did travel with the circus for awhile and left after 93 performances, but only because she didn’t like being “marketed.” Her goal had always been altruistic, and she donated the entire $350,o00 in profits (worth about 10 million today) to endow free schools in Sweden. Isn’t that awesome?! Does it ever strike you as strange that Hollywood would take a perfectly good story and makes it worse because they think it will sell better? What’s that all about? It reminds me of people who brag about being bad or think they’re terrible, when in fact they aren’t as bad as they say they are. Do you ever do that? If you (or someone you loves) struggles with self image, can I encourage you with these words: Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed. Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord (Hebrews 12:12-14). On the other hand, if you think you’re the greatest showman on earth, then I’d recommend this advice from Romans 12:3, “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.” God doesn’t want us to think we’re terrible, nor does he want us to think we’re the best ever! He encourages us to Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24). In that light, perhaps I would nominate P.T. Barnum as the world’s greatest showman, given that a “showman” is someone who “produces or presents shows as a profession, especially the proprietor, manager, or MC of a circus, fair, or other variety show” (Oxford Dictionary). However, I think Hollywood both glamorized and demoralized the real P.T. Barnum…which I think the world also does with Jesus Christ. Jesus is glamorized by some, demoralized by others, and all too often fictionalized. Do you know Him? If you don’t really know who Jesus is, please read the Bible and find out the truth for yourself. He was not a showman, but I do think he was and is the greatest man on earth!

And he shall judge the world in righteousness,
he shall minister judgment to the people in uprightness” (Psalm 9:8).

(All photos from the movie, except the one of my oldest son and his wife!)

 

Saying Goodbye to Christopher Robin

Although I grew up cherishing Winnie-the-Pooh stories, my children grew up practically quoting some of the stories by heart, and a couple of my grandchildren remind me of Christopher Robin (like this one, whom I’ve been visiting the last while, and who’s recently become a big brother, again!),

I never knew much about A.A. Milne, who authored the tales of Christopher Robin and his plush playmates. Goodbye, Christopher Robin (2017, PG, rated 7.1 on IMDb) tells the heart-rending back story of the Milne family.                 A.A. Milne, and his wife Dorothy, were rich British socialites.

In the movie, the real Christopher Robin (nicknamed “Billy Moon” by his parents) appears to have been largely neglected by his mother, although according to his biography, it was his mother who came into the nursery and told him stories about what Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends did and said, and he felt that it was his mother who actually created most of the ideas for Milne’s books. However, it was absolutely true that little Billy was very devoted to his nanny, Olive, who was responsible for his daily care. (I gather this is often true for children who grow up with caring nannies!) Milne had suffered severely from (probable) PTSD after serving in World War I and wished to use his talents as an author to write something that would inspire the world to stop resorting to war as a way of “resolving” conflicts.

Although Milne published a serious plea against war, Peace with Honour, he became famous for was his playful, four-book series based on his son and the little boy’s stuffed animals. These books were incredibly successful, and the Milne family became extremely rich!

Billy Moon (aka Christopher Robin) didn’t mind becoming a celebrity as a child…until he was sent away to boarding school at age eight, where he was mercilessly bullied for his fame.

In response, Billy enlisted in the army during World War II, where he contracted malaria and took some shrapnel to his head (although he recovered completely). It was during the war that Billy came to terms with all the difficulties in his life, because he realized that the Winnie-the-Pooh stories helped people recover from the pain and disillusionment of war by allowing them to retreat into the happy bliss of childhood innocence. Since the original books were written (almost 100 years ago), they have never been out of print, and they have sold over 20 million copies in 50 languages! However, Christopher Robin never accepted royalties from any of the books.  Instead, he married his cousin, Lesley de Sélincourt, founded the Harbour Bookshop in Dartmouth, and wrote a book of his own, Enchanted Places, finding it more gratifying to make his own life rather than live in his father’s shadow.

Now, you may fairly criticize me for telling you so much of the story, but in order to experience all the depth of pathos and charm, I highly recommend that you see Goodbye Christopher Robin for yourself! It made me appreciate that life is always much more complicated and difficult than we can ever imagine, and even the joyous affirmations of innocent childhood—in the real world—often come at great cost.

I also want to say that, unlike Christopher Robin, who didn’t want to stand in his father’s shadow, I am eternally grateful for our loving heavenly Father, who invites us all to stand safely under His shadow! “Because thou hast been my help, therefore in the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice” (Psalm 63:7).

               Beneath the Cross of Jesus
(Elizabeth C. Clephane, 1868)

Beneath the cross of Jesus I fain would take my stand,
The shadow of a mighty rock within a weary land;
A home within the wilderness, a rest upon the way,
From the burning of the noontide heat, and the burden of the day.

O safe and happy shelter, O refuge tried and sweet,
O trysting place where Heaven’s love and Heaven’s justice meet!
As to the holy patriarch that wondrous dream was given,
So seems my Savior’s cross to me, a ladder up to heaven.

There lies beneath its shadow but on the further side
The darkness of an awful grave that gapes both deep and wide
And there between us stands the cross two arms outstretched to save
A watchman set to guard the way from that eternal grave.

Upon that cross of Jesus mine eye at times can see
The very dying form of One Who suffered there for me;
And from my stricken heart with tears two wonders I confess;
The wonders of redeeming love and my unworthiness.

I take, O cross, thy shadow for my abiding place;
I ask no other sunshine than the sunshine of His face;
Content to let the world go by to know no gain or loss,
My sinful self my only shame, my glory all the cross.