Michelle and Tara - they were the darlings of the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. Now, Michelle Kwan was favored to leave Nagano with the coveted gold medal for women's figure skating. Fifteen-year old Tara Lapinski was widely expected to win the silver as the second greatest female skater in the world. But, to the surprise of most of the world, Tara skated to the gold as the youngest skating gold medalist in Olympic history. Michelle Kwan went home with the silver. One morning after commentary said of Tara Lapinski, "She was too young. Too immature. Too unrefined. It wasn't her turn. The reason Tara Lapinski couldn't win the gold medal is the reason it hangs around her neck today: She was a kid." The writer went on to observe that while Michelle Kwan stayed with her parents in her room most of the time before her performance, young Tara was marching in the Opening Ceremony, mingling with other athletes, cheering for her team at other events - even playing video games and football. And then, "it was time to skate the long program. There was no fear. No nerves." Michelle talked about being, in her words, "more cautious." But for the gold medalist - they called it "no fear."
I remember that one time years ago that our area had a garbage strike. I think we've finally gotten rid of the special aroma in our garage after all these years. See, the garage It just piled up while the sanitation folks figured out their deal - and it took a while. Since I know how nasty the garbage can get, I'm sympathetic to the man I heard about recently. There was a garbage strike in his area, and he came up with a creative way to get rid of all that accumulating junk. He simply took some of his garbage each day, put it in a box, and gift wrapped it. Then he left that little gift each day on the bus or the subway as he commented. I'm not sure what happened to any of the lucky recipients of all those packages, but you have to admit - if you've got garbage to move, it's pretty smart to gift wrap it.
Since we're not all military types, it's probably good to explain what a beachhead is before we talk about one. A beachhead is not where the beach begins, or a guy who just thinks about getting to the beach all the time. In wartime, a beachhead is very serious business. It's a small piece of ground you try to take as your first step in taking all the ground that your enemy holds. For example, during World War II, two of the world's greatest generals went against each other when the Allies set out to take North Africa back from the Germans. General Dwight Eisenhower, the commander of the Allied forces, planned to land and take three important beachheads. German general Rommel - the famous "Desert Fox" - basically said, "We must stop Eisenhower within 48 hours of his landing - or we won't stop him." They didn't stop him. And five months after Eisenhower successfully captured that first beachhead, Rommel had to flee and surrender everything, including 250,000 soldiers. But he lost it at that first beachhead.
She was only one woman - actually an inmate on Death Row - but she became the center of a public opinion hurricane. Karla Faye Tucker - convicted of a brutal pickax murder in Texas, sentenced to die, on Death Row for almost 14 years. Reporters from across the country and around the world descended on Huntsville, Texas in the days and weeks before her scheduled execution. And millions of us heard Karla Faye speak for herself as she explained the dramatic change that had taken place in her life. Karla Faye explained that she had trusted Jesus Christ to be her Savior, believing that the sin He died to forgive covered even the heinous things she had done. The way she lived in prison, the way she seemed to speak from deep in her heart lent credibility to the story of rebirth that she told.
My friend Jim loves to wear this shirt that says, "I've been to the wilderness" - that's on the front. On the back it says, "I can handle anything." Sounds a little cocky maybe, but he did earn the right to wear the shirt. He went on a two-week wilderness program where they pushed him, and all those on the trip, to go way beyond their limitations. Running for miles, climbing for hours with a heavy backpack, living off the land, blazing trails, enduring the heat, going solo for two days with almost nothing to live on. Hard? Yes. Fun? Not particularly. Worth it? Ask Jim. Or, better yet, read his shirt. "I've been to the wilderness - I can handle anything!"
Spock, Scotty, a doctor called "Bones," the Starship Enterprise, the transporter, the Klingons - they're all part of a universe millions of people know as Star Trek. And if the oft-repeated TV shows weren't enough, the Star Trek crew became the stars of several major movies. And then came the new crew, set even farther ahead in our future - "Star Trek - The Next Generation." They were still boldly going where no one had gone before on the Starship Enterprise. But "Star Trek I" and "Star Trek II" had at something more than a ship in common - they both had a strong captain in command. First, Captain Kirk - who always seemed to have things under control. But then along came the "Next Generation" skipper - Captain Picard. He had a lot less hair than Capt. Kirk - but he seemed to be even more in charge. There was never a question as to who was in charge of the ship, the crew, and the situation. And when Capt. Picard would give an order, he would follow it with three "no argument" words that were always the bottom line - "Make it so."
Ian is an amazing man. If you only know the public Ian, the private Ian is going to shock you. If you only know the private Ian, the public Ian is going to shock you. He's a friend of mine who has been the leader of Youth for Christ's highly effective ministry in New Zealand. As you converse with him, you quickly learn that Ian has a stutter - which sometimes makes it difficult just for him to complete a sentence. While it's noticeable, it's not important. Ian is a godly, magnetic person. But then when you see him in action before a crowd - as I did at a national youth convention with 3,000 teenagers - well, prepare for a shock. I felt bad, wondering how he would communicate effectively to all those kids with that stutter. To my amazement, I discovered there suddenly was no stutter. His speech was perfect, and he emceed and preached flawlessly. That's what's so amazing about Ian - something happens to him when he has to speak well. And to you.
When you grow up in the city like I did, your neighborhood usually has a neighborhood bully. Ours did. His name? Boomer! I don't know if he was born with that name or if he earned that name. All I know is that for the little kids on our block, Boomer was like the original terrorist. He would beat us up for nothing, he'd take our stuff, and generally intimidate us. But one day I got tired of it - he had taken my White Sox cap. Sure, I was just a little guy. Sure, I was no match for him. But I walked boldly down our street to where no kid dared to go - to the corner apartment building where Boomer lived. I went to the back porch, knocked on the door, and asked for my hat back. You say, "My, what a brave little boy." There is one detail I left out - my father went with me. And that made all the difference. See, Boomer was bigger than I was. But my father was bigger than Boomer was!
You may not be able to tell over the radio - but I'm not a very big guy. Oh, I'm big inside. But outside, more of a Volkswagen than a semi. Which makes it amazing that both my sons ended up playing line in football. That's usually where they put the monsters. Actually, we used to joke that linemen wore their IQs on their jerseys - you know, like 75. But it was brawn more than brains they needed to either hold the line while their opponents were trying to move them or to break through those gorillas on the other side of the line. There are just a few simple instructions that every coach wants every lineman to learn and live by. Our guys heard this one all the time - "Keep your feet moving." No matter what. Even if it feels like you're going nowhere. Even if you're getting hammered. Even if you think it's doing no good. As long as you keep driving - as long as you keep your feet moving - you're making a difference. The alternative - getting knocked down.
It's been almost 80 years - but there's something about the sinking of the Titanic that fascinates us. Latest evidence - the incredible success of the blockbuster movie, "Titanic." I've always found the story of the last hours of this supposedly unsinkable ship to be a haunting story. People representing just about all the kind of people that there are, knowing many of them will probably die,facing the reality that, at best, half of them will get into a lifeboat. The ways people handled those terrifying hours on a sinking ship tell us so much about what we are really like.