For many years, news correspondent Barbara Walters has done a special year-end program called "The Ten Most Fascinating People," which highlights interesting individuals from that particular year. Athletes, politicians, religious leaders, actors, and actresses all make their appearances on her special show. It is always a matter of great interest to many to see who she will choose to profile each time.
During the year, I began to think about some of the people I have known and heard about who were fascinating to me but for reasons different than Barbara Walters' choices. In this blog post, I will highlight some of the courageous and inspirational people whose stories have especially touched me during the year. It is my way of honoring and recognizing the brave and good-hearted among us who help to make this world a better place. As 2014 has come to a close, I want to introduce my Inspiration Awards.
Without further ado, here are my winners:
Most Inspirational Service Member Award
Marine Cpl. William "Kyle" Carpenter is my Most Inspirational Service Member for obvious reasons. In November of 2010, while guarding a roof top in Afghanistan, Kyle and another Marine suddenly started taking enemy fire. When a hand grenade was thrown their direction, he jumped on top of it and took the blow, thus shielding his fellow warrior from the brunt of the blast. Miraculously, both Marines survived the incident, although with series injuries. This past summer, Kyle was invited to the White House where he was presented with the our nation's highest award for military valor: the Medal of Honor. Since then, he has used his platform and newly-found national attention to draw awareness to veterans' issues and to share his remarkable story of faith and courage with others. Always lighting up a room with his wonderful smile and sense of humor, Kyle embraces the second chance at life that God has given him and desires to live it to the fullest. He is now in his second year of college at the University of South Carolina. For his bravery and, more importantly, his character and class, Kyle is more than deserving of being the first recipient of the Most Inspirational Service Member Award. God bless you, Kyle, and thank you for your service to our country.
My choice for the Courage Award was very easy: my friend, Katie Elliot. Katie has been bravely fighting a long battle with cancer for the past few years. Just a teenager, she has had a hard road to travel but has met her health challenges with grace and dignity that is way beyond her years. Her positive attitude, faith in God, and beautiful smile have inspired many people along the way, even drawing the attention and support of Seattle Seahawks' quarterback, Russell Wilson, who visited her on one of his weekly trips to the cancer ward of Seattle Children's Hospital. Katie has endured the countless hours of treatment, numerous surgeries, and flights from Alaska to Seattle with great strength and courage. For this reason, she is my first recipient of the Courage Award. We all love you, Katie! Keep flashing that wonderful smile, and keep living each day to its fullest. Thank you for inspiring so many people.
Ernie Casper has only recently become a friend of mine, but he was the clear choice for my Perseverance Award. Eight years ago, Ernie - a young husband and father of two - suffered a debilitating stroke that took away his ability to walk, talk, and really do anything for himself. Through years of therapy and, most importantly, God's healing touch, Ernie has now regained his speech and is actually physically in better shape than he ever was before the stroke. He has become an avid runner and martial arts athlete as well as a painter and photographer. He has told me that he never dreamed he would ever do any of these things, let alone after a stroke. Ernie is one of the happiest and most outgoing people I know, exuding joy and humor to anyone who knows him. He has persevered through his health challenges and embraces life and all it has to offer. More than that, Ernie is a devout Christian who believes that God has made him a better person as a result of all he has gone through. For his beautiful spirit and courageous attitude, Ernie is my 2014 recipient of the Perseverance Award. Thank you, Ernie for bringing so much hope and joy to the world. I am blessed to know you.
Sportsman of the Year Award
I first heard about a young quarterback named Derek Carr about a year ago. While playing for Fresno State University, Derek had set 27 college football records and was in his senior season when I began to watch his games. The more I learned about this young man, the more I liked him. Just before his senior season, Derek's wife had given birth to a little son they named Dallas. Dallas, however, had to overcome some major health issues at birth and almost died along the way. God miraculously pulled little Dallas through, and he is now a healthy one-year-old. Earlier this spring, Derek was drafted by the Oakland Raiders and became their starting quarterback at the start of this season - his rookie year. Over the last several months, I have been blessed to get to know Derek personally and continue to be impressed with his character and leadership skills. After losing only one game his senior season, Derek has only won three games since entering the NFL. But, in victory or defeat, he has shown a maturity and steadiness that is way beyond his twenty-three years. In a sport that has recently been plagued by scandal and crime, he has become an example to many of what a true man of character should be. He has continued to stand on the firm foundation of his faith in God and love of family, which has given him perspective during this difficult season. Because of this, Derek Carr is my 2014 Sportsman of the Year. Thank you, Derek, for putting God first in all you do and for showing such character in the face of adversity. It is my honor to name you my first recipient of this award.
Team of the Year Award
This award was a tie, so there are two Team of the Year awards being given out this year:
The San Francisco Giants are not receiving this award because they are my favorite MLB team but because of the way they baffled many in winning this year's World Series title - their third in five years! Mid-summer, with their division status dropping and their win percentage going down, many thought the Giants' chances of getting to the post season were all but over. To the surprise of most, they rallied just enough to get themselves a wild card spot and a chance to make the playoffs. As they seemingly found another level of play that was missing earlier in the year, their team spirit, selfless play, and commitment to one another became evident to all who were watching their miraculous run to another championship. This team never ceases to amaze me the way that they stick together through adversity, praise each other when a fellow teammate does something well and, most importantly, put their families and their faith above everything. The strong character of their players and the culture of success they have built together is a wonderful example. In an age where selfishness plagues most sports, the Giants are re-defining what it means to be a close team - a team dedicated to the success of everyone involved, not just themselves. Thank you, Giants, for setting the bar high - on the field and in life.
The Chinooks are my second recipient of this award. This summer, I had the opportunity to observe first-hand what it looks like when a team comes together and plays for a higher purpose than just a sport. These college players from around the country began their season hardly knowing one another and ended up as best friends. The beginning of the season wasn't easy for them - they lost most of their first few games - but they stuck together and kept believing that things would turn around. They ended on a good note, winning nine of their last eleven games. Most importantly, these players were a wonderful example on the field of good character and selfless play, continuing to distinguish themselves as the "good guys." By putting faith in God at the center of their aspirations, these players built a solid reputation in the community and the Alaska Baseball League. I loved watching you play, Chinooks, and am proud to call myself one of your fans! Keep making a difference in the world through your baseball playing and your example to those around you!
I appreciate both of these teams and how they displayed the right way to play the game - in sports and in life. It is my pleasure to present the Giants and the Chinooks with my 2014 Team of the Year Award!
Singer of the Year
Jason Gray. I just can't say enough about this amazing singer's faith and the inspiration he has been to so many people, including me. Just over a year ago, I was introduced to the beautiful voice and music of this guy from Minnesota and was even more touched by the story behind his moving lyrics. Jason has overcome childhood abuse and a subsequent speech impediment and has embraced the opportunity to share a message of hope to a hurting world: God is always good - even in the midst of the pain of life - and we are always loved. No matter what we go through, hope is always a reality because of the One who offers it to us. Especially for those who are walking a dark road, Jason's music soothes and comforts the soul. I am pleased to award him with the 2014 Singer of the Year Award. Thank you, Jason, for allowing God to use you and redeem the painful chapters of your life so that you can give life to others.
Movie of the Year
I first went to see this movie last spring and was blown away by its courageous message. It is the story of a young man who dares to stand up to the false teaching of his college professor and who refuses to believe that there isn't a God. It is a wonderful inspiration to anybody who watches it and is a reminder of the importance of taking a stand for what you believe. For this reason, I select "God's Not Dead" as my 2014 Movie of the Year.
Book of the Year
After seeing this incredible story on a national TV show, a relative of mine first told me about this woman. When I saw her book on the shelves of a local bookstore, I knew I had to get it. I wasn't prepared, however, to be so profoundly moved by what I read in those pages. It wasn't a hard decision for me to know what book I would choose for my 2014 Book of the Year. Thank you, Antoinette Tuff, for sharing your story and inspiring so many people because of it!
Song of the Year
Jason Gray's song "Laugh Out Loud" came to be a sort of personal anthem for me this year. In the various seasons of my life, I kept coming back to the life-giving words of this catchy little song. It always reminded me to be thankful for what matters in life and to laugh and smile…even when life makes it hard to do so. God will always take your hand and give you the grace to go "whistling through the dark" when you give the pieces of your broken heart over to Him. Thanks, Jason, for penning what, in my estimation, is the 2014 Song of the Year!
I hope you enjoyed my 2014 Inspiration Awards. I can't wait to begin choosing the 2015 nominees and winners and announcing them to you at the end of next year! It is my prayer that the example of these amazing people will inspire all of us to live better lives.