Last year, I began a year-end feature on my blog that highlights the stories and lives of people who inspired me in the past year and why. A long-time journalist has done a program called "10 Most Fascinating People." After being disappointed in their choice for the last few years, I decided, starting in 2014, to form my own list. In so doing, I hope you are introduced to the brave, daring, and kind-hearted individuals who have bettered the world around them by their actions and words. Here now are my 2015 Inspiration Awards:
Most Inspirational Service Member Award
Alek Scarlatos and Spencer Stone share this award for Most Inspirational Service Member this year. And the reasons are obvious. Alex having recently returned from a deployment, he and his two childhood friends, Anthony Sadler and Spencer were on vacation to Europe for awhile. None of them could've anticipated what God had in store for them as they left. On August 21, 2015 these three young men rocketed to international attention for their actions on a train from the Netherlands to France. When a young Moroccan man was noticed carrying an assault rifle and 270 rounds of ammunition and had begun to try to shoot those around him, Alek and Spencer, supported by Anthony, made their move to try to stop him from carrying out his devastating plan. Spencer got to the man first and was injured while trying to subdue him. Alex seized the man's weapon and began beating him on the head till he was unconscious in order to get him to be still. In the meantime, in spite of his injurious, Spencer saw that another man had been hurt by the one round that had escaped the gunman's weapon. He immediately began administering medical treatment to the man while still keeping an eye on Alek and Anthony's progress in subduing the assailant. Another British businessman joined the Americans in their efforts to stop the attack. Upon arriving at a nearby train station and security arriving, the three friends were questioned and taken to a nearby hospital for medial help for Spencer. When news broke of their heroic actions, France wanted to honor the young men for saving so many lives that day and awarded its highest decoration medal for valor: the Legion of Honor. Since that day, the three have lived far more public lives than they ever dreamed when they boarded that train in August. And yet, all of the United States, as well as France and the world, owe them a debt of gratitude for what they were willing to risk in order to save many lives. For this reason, I award Alek and Spencer my second, and shared, recipients of the Most Inspirational Service Member Award and honorably mention their civilian friend Anthony for his part in their efforts as well. Thank you fellows for allowing God to use you that day to spare so many lives! And I honor you for your service to our nation and to the world.
In one of the most selfless and chivalrous acts I heard of this year, La'Darious Wylie, an 11-year-old boy from South Carolina, made national headlines for sacrificing his life to save his sister. Thus, my choice for the 2015 Courage Award was an easy one. On October 27, he saw an oncoming vehicle at a school bus stop and pushed his sister out of the way, unable to move himself out of the way in time. Taking the full impact of the car driven by a drunk driver, La'Darious was immediately declared unconscious at the scene of the accident. The driver sped off leaving witnesses, a distraught sister, and an critically injured La'Darious to fend for themselves. He was rushed to the hospital where he was declared alive but essentially brain dead. The next day, his mother made the choice to pull him off life support, and he passed away. The driver of the car that hit him was later arrested and charged for her actions. Not only, however, did La'Darious end up saving his sister's life but due to his organs being donated after his death, he will end saving countless other lives as well. He will be remembered by those who knew him as a charming young man who loved his family, football, and life and who was willing to risk his own safety to ensure that of his sister. It is for his unselfish actions that I award him this year's Courage Award. He is the first posthumous recipient of the award. Thank you, La'Darious for being a young man of bravery and selflessness. Even though you will be greatly missed, your courageous actions will continue to inspire us all.
Until recently, I was still trying to narrow down my recipient choice for the Perseverance Award this year. But when I received a "follow" from this young man on Twitter, I knew immediately who I would choose. Zerbin Singleton is not only an inspiring person but also one I can personally call a friend. Zerbin's start in life wasn't an easy one and, humanly speaking, he didn't have much going for him in the way of success. Born to a mother who was addicted to drugs, Zerbin did not know his father until he was fifteen years old. Home was Anchorage, Alaska where drugs, domestic violence, poverty, and occasionally homelessness were a way of life. At the age of ten, his aunt took him in and got him in touch with her daughter, his cousin. Shortly thereafter, he left Alaska for Georgia where his cousin and her family became the family he had never had. They instilled in him a love of God and a desire to pursue success in life, in spite of his challenges early on. But the hard times weren't over yet. One week before he was to graduate from high school as valedictorian, he was in a head-on collision with a drunk driver which broke his collarbone. His dream of entering the United States Naval Academy had to be deferred because of the injury. He enrolled at Georgia Tech where he began his college education and also played football. A year later, he was able to enter the Naval Academy where he enjoyed a standout career on the football field and also academically. His success wasn't without it's share of sorrow. As with much of his young life, Zerbin endured the sad news his freshman year of the suicide of his biological father, who he had recently begun to know for the first time. In spite of all of these difficulties, however, Zerbin kept his faith in God's plan and continued to push ahead toward the goals he set for himself. In 2007, he was awarded the Disney's Wide World of Sports Spirit Award:
He was also awarded the FedEx Orange Bowl Courage Award - both given to the most inspirational college football player in the nation. During his time at the Naval Academy, he also achieved the rank of Brigade Commander, the highest ranking student at the Academy. Zerbin has since gone on to become a captain in the Marine Corps and a helicopter pilot. In his additional time, he does motivational speaking in hopes of inspiring others to become the best they can be...no matter what trials may lie along the way. As he likes to describe himself, he is "a man of God, living a life characterized by perseverance, hard work, and overcoming adversity...a bio in the making everyday." Just this last weekend, I was honored to spend the afternoon with Zerbin and hear him share his story with me in person, and I can attest to the fact that God's grace and a great attitude have gotten this young man far in life.
For his amazing positivity and faith in God, regardless of the obstacles he's faced, I am pleased to present my good friend Capt. Zerbin Singleton with the Perseverance Award. Thank you, Zerbin, for bringing hope to the world by your example and inspiring others through your story to pursue their God-given talents and dreams! I am blessed to have met you.
Sportsman of the Year
So far this year, what hasn't there been said about the reigning NBA Most Valuable Player?! Steph Curry has done nothing but wow people this year...even his opponents and former detractors. Nobody can deny that Curry has an amazing talent and an even better work ethic to go along with it. But these things alone aren't what make him my choice for Sportsman of the Year. The side of Steph that many people don't see is what makes him special in my opinion. He comes from a very grounded family who taught him the values that make for true success in life...not just on the court. He is married to the love of his life, Ayesha, and is the adoring father of two little girls. He has continued to speak out about his love for God...even when people told him that he was being "too religious" and should stop standing up for his faith. When he received the coveted MVP trophy earlier this year, his speech was filled with references to the importance of faith and family, drawing support from many people:
So far, fame hasn't changed who Steph is as a person and the priorities which run his life. He has continued to put others before himself and strives to be the best example for his Savior that he can be. Because of this, he is my obvious selection for 2015 Sportsman of the Year. Thank you, Steph, for impressing us all with your humility and your love for people and the game you play. More importantly, thank you for being a son, brother, husband, and father as well as a teammate anybody would be honored to have. It is my pleasure to name you my second recipient of this award. Keep shining for Jesus...and sinking those amazing three-pointers of yours!
Team of the Year
The Golden State Warriors are not receiving this award merely for the fact that they won the NBA Championship this year. While their playoff success was incredible and their subsequent performance in recent weeks has been nothing short of amazing, what made them my recipient of the Team of the Year award was their unselfish play and focus on faith and family in a sports world dominated by egos and selfish attitudes. Many of the team members attend Bible Study together and subdue their own egos for the betterment of the group and one another. Recently, I happened to meet the wife of the team's surgeon, and she told me that you will never meet a nicer group of men. The joy that they get out of one another's success and the love that they have for their team is unmatched. They are just regular guys who happen to play basketball for a living. This is a spirit that translates to incredible chemistry on the court and a willingness to give up shots for each other and help make the team a success in whatever way possible. In both play and attitude, they are setting the bar high of what a true team looks like. Thank you, Warriors, for being the men you are and for helping to re-define the word champion both on and off the court.
Singer of the Year
Aaron Shust was my clear winner of this year's Singer of the Year award. No artist has inspired me more or brought my soul more encouragement in 2015 than him. His songs, grounded in faith and truth, have spoken hope and life to me in both good times and bad. Having dealt with his own share of difficulties (his son having been born with Down's Syndrome), Aaron knows and believes deeply what he sings about. It is my pleasure to give him the Singer of the Year award. Thanks, Aaron, for using your gift of music to bless the world!
Movie of the Year
This award ended up with a tie this year...because two movies came out and both were worthy of this. Both had meaningful messages of hope and inspiration which I felt were worthy of being highlighted. So...here are my winners for Movie of the Year:
I first went to see "Beyond the Mask" last Spring and was incredibly moved by its message. William Reynolds struggles with a hidden past and he must face his real self thanks to the love of and for his girlfriend. She introduces him to the redemption found in God's grace and William's life will never be the same again. This film causes anybody who sees it to ponder the importance of living a transparent life before God and others.
Later this year, I saw the highly anticipated "War Room," and I must say it did not disappoint. I loved its message of the healing power of forgiveness and prayer, that God will always work miracles through the willing hearts of those who are submitted to Him and His will. It is definitely one worth seeing, especially if you're finding yourself in a hopeless situation and you don't think that people can be influenced and changed for the better!
I thank the makers of both these movies for taking the time and effort to make films that inspire and uplift!
Book of the Year
I stumbled on this book earlier this year as I was looking around my local bookstore. Upon reading this amazing story, I found myself wanting to live the best life possible: to make the most of everyday, to be thankful - even when circumstances dictate otherwise, to love others more truly, and to embrace afflictions as opportunities for growth and change. U. S. Navy SEAL Ryan Job met with unexpected tragedy when he lost his sight due to injuries sustained in Iraq. In the years that followed, Ryan went from strong "Navy SEAL to Christian neophyte to a walking inspiration." This story reminds the reader of the tangible presence of God in our suffering and the importance of being there for the broken. It also shows how not just the injured but even the physically whole among us can be broken...and healed by the grace and power of God. For this reason, this book was my hands-down choice for Book of the Year. I encourage you to get a copy and settle in for a long and worthwhile read!
Song of the Year
This song was one that I came back to time and again...whether in a time of personal peace and joy - or in the moments when worry or sorrow gripped my mind and heart. The words were a constant reminder to me of the hope that is mine because of my relationship to God. That nothing can shake my soul if I am walking closely with Him. Without a doubt, "My Hope Is in You" is the 2015 Song of the Year. Thank you, Aaron Shust, for penning this beautiful anthem of praise to God and helping me to recall to mind the amazing faithfulness of God at all times!
I trust that you were edified and blessed by my 2015 Inspiration Awards! I look forward to revealing my selections for 2016 around this time next year, and I pray that you will go forth inspired to live a better life of your own after seeing what God has done through this willing and humble people!