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Thursday, December 29, 2016

My 2016 Inspiration Awards

This is now my third year of doing what I call my "inspiration awards." Modeled after the long-running "10 Most Fascinating People," it is my attempt to list the inspiring people and things that have caught my attention during the year. It's my way of recognizing the brave ones among us who are making the world a better place one day, one life at a time. 
Here now are my 2016 Inspiration Awards: 

Most Inspirational Service Member Award

  This year, I am giving this award to a very special young man. Thanks to the extensive coverage of the Paralympics this summer, I was able to find out more about this former Naval officer and was touched by his cheerful attitude and his courageous outlook on life. Lt. Bradley Snyder attended the United States Naval Academy and was captain of the swim team while going to school there. After graduating in 2006, he was deployed to Afghanistan where, while serving, he lost his eyesight in an IED explosion. The injury also gave him the scars on his face as well as a ruptured eardrum. Enduring weeks of rehab and adjustment to the fact that he would never see again, Snyder decided to get back into swimming as a way of staying in shape and dealing with his injury. According to him, being back in the water made him feel like he was normal again, helping to give him his zest for life back. Snyder has gone on to represent the United States in two Paralympic Games and has won 3 gold medals and 1 silver medal. He is also the current world record holder among all fully blind athletes in one of his events. His story is a special one, and his acceptance of the way life's story unfolded for him is one we can all learn from. 

  (Here is a view of Lt. Snyder's gold medal win in the 100 freestyle in London during the 2012 Paralympic Games...only a year after his injury and loss of eyesight.)

I am proud to honor this amazing military hero with this award. Congratulations, Lt. Bradley Snyder. Many blessings to you in your life going forward!  

Courage Award

  Yet another blind athlete and his running guide stole the hearts of viewers everywhere during the Rio Paralympics this year. David Brown has never been able to see the track on which he runs. He's fast...mighty fast. But he can't see. At three years old, he lost one of his eyes to a rare disease and, by age ten, he had lost the other eye as well. Not to be stopped because of his unfortunate turn of events, David simply put his faith in the fact that, as he puts it, "God had a plan." And he started to run. Most people in his situation would be tempted to withdraw themselves from much of life and it's adventures, but David was just getting started. At age 23 he is a Paralympic World Record holder and has also become the first blind athlete to run the 100 meter dash in under 11 seconds. David met his guide, Jerome Avery in 2010, and the two have become inseparable. Jerome had pursued an Olympic dream of his own but instead, many years later, his first medal was a shared Paralympic Gold in sacrificing his own dream, he helped David to achieve his. Tethered together by a small cord, it is a prime example of how we all need the help of others in order to be successful in life. 

  I wish both of these young men nothing but the best in life, both on and off the track. Thank you, David and Jerome, for giving your country (and the world) something to cheer for! 

Perseverance Award

  My 2016 Perseverance Award goes to two young ladies whose example of sportsmanship and perseverance brought tears and applause from people all over the world. Bound by mutual faith and friendship, they put aside rivalry and competition to help one another on the biggest stage of track and field: the Rio Olympics. Neither runner was favored to win a medal in their event, but both ended up receiving special recognition for their actions in the wake of a fall during the race. Abbey D'agostino of the United States collided with Erin Hamblin of New Zealand about 3, 200 meters into a 5,000 meter race, possibly because Hamblin had slowed her pace to avoid a runner who was being lapped. Whatever the reason, D'agostino hit Hamblin from behind, and both fell to the track. D'agostino got up but noticed that Hamblin was in distress and paused to help her up to her feet. They tried to continue the race, but D'agostino was in pain from an apparent injury to her leg. She could hardly stand up. Hamblin then helped D'agostino to her feet, but D'agostino told her to continue the race and go on. Both ladies finished the race, limping their way to the line. 

In the hours and days that followed, their story made headlines all over the world. In a day and age where people are often too independent to lend a helping hand to one another, these two gals touched our hearts with their care for each other and their display of the principle that it's not so much winning that counts as how you ran the race. Thanks Abbey and Erin for teaching us all what really matters! 

Sportsman Of The Year Award

    The man and the moment I've chosen for Sportsman of the Year is one that probably many of you didn't see. But sometimes, what goes unnoticed and is simply done for the right reasons is what matters the most. For many years, Allistair and Jonny Brownlee have been running triathlons and have even shared the podium together many times. In the final race of the 2016 triathlon season, both brothers were contending for first place with Jonny slightly ahead and Allistair close behind him, another runner slightly ahead of both of them. The race looked to be headed for a dramatic finish. But then, dazed by heat and dehydration, Jonny slowed and started to stagger toward the sideline. Coming around the corner and seeing his brother in distress, Allistair veered over to where Jonny was plodding along and pulled Jonny's arm over his own shoulders. He then proceeded to haul him along toward the finish line, eventually pushing him over the line for a second place finish and thus sacrificing his own chance at victory in order to help his brother. 

For this selfless act and for his example to people everywhere of what true sportsmanship is, I am pleased to award British triathlete Allistair Brownlee the 2016 Sportsman of the Year Award. 

Also, in Honorable Mention for this award this year, I wanted to congratulate United States Olympic divers David Boudia and Steele Johnson for their silver medal performance in Rio this summer...but more importantly, for their public witness for their faith. In many interviews, they both took the opportunity to honor God with their talents and put Him first in all that they did. Even when some urged them to back off on their "Jesus talk," they continued to speak about their faith. Thank you, David and Steele, for inspiring us all this year! 

Team of the Year Award

  There were two teams this year that I felt were worthy of this award; therefore, they will be sharing honors for my selection of Team of the Year. Both overcame much adversity en route to a championship at the end of their respective seasons. 

Princeton University's baseball team had endured a 7-32 season the previous year and seemed to be a long ways away from a championship year. However, spurred on by a book that the coach had given out at the beginning of the year, the team put together a season that landed them in the Ivy League Championship series where they pulled out two wins - both on walk-offs - and took home the trophy. Perhaps most impressively, they went from being the second-worst team in the country to being Ivy League Champs and earning a berth in the NCAA tournament in one year's time! The resilience and perseverance of their team truly was one of the best sports stories I witnessed all year. 

 The Chicago Cubs. All we say is simply - wow! 108 years of waiting for a championship finally ended this fall in dramatic style with the Cubs winning Game 7 of the World Series. I was impressed by the team spirit which the Cubs displayed throughout the season and the resilience they showed...even when their backs were against the proverbial wall. The mentoring of veteran catcher David Ross showed that we can always take time to impart knowledge into the lives of those who follow in our steps, and we're never too old to enjoy life and appreciate what we do. The gentlemanly way of first baseman Anthony Rizzo taught us all that respect will always get you far in life. There were so many other moments surrounding the Cubs run to becoming world champions that warmed our hearts and made us appreciate the game of baseball...even if we didn't care much about the sport itself. More importantly, at a controversial time with the election and all, it gave us something to come together around as a country.
It is my pleasure to present my 2016 Team of the Year award to the Princeton Tigers and the Chicago Cubs. Thank you (to both teams) for inspiring many people this year!

Singer of the Year

  Jordan Smith was (hands down) my favorite and most inspiring singer in 2016. The Season 9 winner of "The Voice," Smith can bring the presence of God into a room through music in a way I have never seen before. The hush that falls on a crowd when he first begins to sing is truly remarkable. Most importantly, I was drawn to how this young man so clearly stated that his purpose was to sing for God and to use his talents for a higher calling. Through his choice of songs during "The Voice," he made it "cool" to sing a hymn like "Great Is Thy Faithfulness":

...or a contemporary Christian song like "Mary, Did You Know?":

For the beauty he has brought to modern music and for the love of Jesus which he allows to shine inside him, Jordan Smith is my 2016 Singer of the Year. Thank you, Jordan, for using your gift of music to better this world and bring glory to the Lord!

Movie of the Year

 My choice for Movie of the Year was a difficult one this time. I just hadn't seen one so far that really made the kind of impact that I had experienced in the past...just hadn't watched one that merited this award...until the Christmas season. I taped this movie up and saw it recently with my family and was profoundly touched. The story is of a group of postal workers who desire to make Christmas wishes come true...but things take an interesting turn when their own personal wishes start to intersect with the wish they are trying to fulfill for a young girl. Surprisingly, the Christian message really comes through in this movie, making the lessons of hope, forgiveness, and love come alive in even greater measure. 

This movie is definitely one that I will look into purchasing and owning a copy of. I would encourage you to do the same! Congrats to the actors and producers of "Signed, Sealed, and Delivered for Christmas" on being my selection for Movie of the Year!

Book of the Year

    There were two books in 2016 that drastically changed my life - quite unexpectedly. I had intended to read both for sometime but now I see that, in looking back, God delayed my reading of them for very important reasons. Each one took my faith to new heights as I learned to pray more deeply, believe more sincerely, love more fully as a result...which is why I couldn't select only one.  Here now are my picks for Book of the Year:

A friend of mine had recommended this book to me sometime ago, and I had purchased it months before. It had sat on my bookshelf for awhile, other reading taking its place. But I finally picked it up this summer, needing a book that would increase my faith at a time when it was being stretched thin. With my dad in the hospital at the time and work challenges mounting, I needed something that would renew my faith in God's ability to do the impossible. Little did I realize that this book would do that and so much more. I learned how to pray big prayers as a result of this book. In reading the story of this pastor and the growth of his church as a result of God blessing His people when they pray, I came to see how I had prayed small prayers most of my life. I didn't see God's large-ness to the extent that I would then pray through impossibilities...would ask God for miracles. It was a convicting read, and I recommend it to anybody looking to hedge your biggest fears and dreams in prayer. While I don't agree with everything in here, I would still see as being a profitable read. 

Around the time of the Olympic Games this summer, I read the amazing story of Olympic diver, David Boudia. I was already familiar with his amazing testimony, having watched him compete four years earlier in London and win the gold medal. I knew that David is not ashamed to acknowledge his Savior in public situations, so I expected a great read when I began this book. However, what I did not expect was that it would inspire me to tell my own story in ways I never thought I would. David has a way of redeeming the stories of his sinful past and lacing it with the Gospel to such a degree that I realized the time had come to share my own story in an entirely different manner. It was in the wake of reading this book that I posted my two-month-long series on my personal journey to grace. If it weren't for the reading of this book, I'm not sure I would've shared the details of my past in the way that I did. David's story freed me to tell my own and, for that, I am humbly grateful. 
Both of these books blessed me deeply, and I am confident that they will bless you also if you choose to read them for yourself. 

Song of the Year

  My favorite singer, Jason Gray, never fails to write songs that speak to the longings of the human heart. I purchased his most recent album "Where The Light Gets In" earlier this summer. It arrived just after my dad's hospitalization, and I soaked in the song lyrics continuously this summer. This particular song was one that became quite dear to me as God challenged me throughout 2016 to thank and praise...even in the hard times. Without a doubt, "Thank You for Everything" is my 2016 Song of the Year. Thank you again, Jason, for speaking life to wounded hearts and showing them God's love. 

I hope that you've been blessed and encouraged by my 2016 Inspiration Awards. Every year, I look forward to sharing with you the people and things that have inspired me. I am excited to do this again in 2017...and who knows what awesome things might make the list next year?!