Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Laura Hillenbrand, I Applaud You

Unbroken, is by far the best book I've read all year, if not in the last few years.  I want to see this title at the top of the New York Times Best Seller List as a way that we as a country and people extend our thanks to those men who were POW's in the Pacific during WWII.  It is also a way for us to show our gratitude to an author for making sure this story of dignity, survival, and forgiveness was not lost in the passing of time.

The story is centered around Olympic runner Louis Zamperini whose plane went down in the Pacific during WWII.  He and his companion Phillip survive a record 46 days in the ocean only to be captured by the Japanese and tortured for YEARS, until the end of the war.  The details are horrific, amazing, gripping, and astounding.  But it was the themes and the life lessons that we all can learn from this story that made this book worth passing on and buying for others.

I truly believe that Laura's aim is to tell the truth, she worked on this project for seven years and spoke with numerous individuals, eye-witnesses, read letters, looked up records etc....and tell the Truth she does.  This book was a spiritual encouragement to me in my faith.  Throughout Louie's entire journey, from a young boy living in California to even the publication of this story, you see a man who was sought and pursued and loved by God...yes, and bad things did happen to him...something that he worked through as he came to believe in a loving and forgiving God.

While he was floating in the ocean, desperate, he made a promise that he would serve God if God would save him.  God did.  Then the horrors of being a POW came into play.  The Japanese tried to strip the men of their humanity and dignity.  It was a mental battle as much as a physical one.  The horrors endured were, at times, unbelievable.  But somehow the men used their sense of community with each other to support each other and retain the inner knowledge that they were human and worthy of life.

I was astounded that after the POW's were released that they did not seek out vengeance, but instead looked around and saw that the Japanese people were starving.  They had empathy toward them, sharing their food drops and any supplies they were given by the US government.

Still, the scars on Louie's soul were great.  After his release, he had been declared dead so his return home was shocking to many many people...being he was a famous runner, he had flashbacks and demons to contend with.  Laura does a good job of detailing the scars that many POW's carried with them for their rest of their tortured lives living on US soil.  At the very least, many used alcohol to numb their plagued minds.  This was Louie's method.  His life appeared to be broken: broke, failed marriage, alcoholic...but God had other plans.  Billy Graham came to town and through some manipulation, Louis went.  (His wife had gone earlier in the week and had become a Christian and wanted Louis to attend and hear the message of Good News.)

Hillenbrand does an excellent job piecing together Zamperini's account of his conversation and parts from Graham's actual sermon.  It gives a person chills as Louie submits himself to God and extends forgiveness toward the Japanese, and especially one guard, the Bird.

The rest of the book is full of hope.  Louie is free from his flashbacks, completely healed and made whole.  His marriage saved.  He's able to provide for his family and buy a home...free from alcoholism.  (He spent his life telling his story and testimony.)  He went back to Japan and forgave his captors.  He wrote a letter to the Bird praying that he would come to know Christ.  Zamperini's conversation was real and undeniable.

What a true hero Mr. Zamperini is, truly unbroken.  What a completely perfect title for this story.  One of the best pictures in the book is of Louie at age 81 riding a skateboard...full of life and hardly defeated.  This story is of grace and forgiveness, and how Christ and His Spirit is a spirit of miraculous peace.

My soul was fed with this read.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Olympics: Schneiter Style

“Here, put these three hats on and try to walk across the laundry room.  You are the Japanese.  I’m the Russians,” C instructed his older brother B.  The Olympics have descended upon the Schneiter household.  New Olympic events are being created each hour.  After watching the men’s gymnastics, my boys were flipping and twirling down our stairway.  I’m sure they felt athletic and fluid as they went flopping and thudding down the steps.  At least the scores they were giving each other reflected champion status.

There is a new furor for the race: swimming, running, hopping…  Our youngest is struggling over this.  A’s the one begging for it, begging to line up beside his older brothers and race through the living room, to the kitchen, and back around to end up in the TV room for his triumphant finish.  Each time he doesn’t win, which is every time we don’t make B lose, is a major emotional upset.  A might be getting some of these pointers from the London athletes, but mostly it’s in his nature to find losing extremely frustrating.  His lips pout; he hits the sides of his body with fists clenched and cries, “B won!  I lost.  I not faster than B.”

The other day B named himself B Phelps and C morphed into C Lochte.  Cultural observations are being drawn also.  “The Japanese and Chinese are rivals, but the Chinese are better,” C surmised.  Then he added, “Russia and Germany are rivals too, but no one is rivals with the US.  People stop trying when they compete against the US.”  What?  Remember, he’s 5.

My sons are learning a lot this summer. I was feeling like a bad mom because I decided to not push any type of literacy this summer, but instead decided to focus on the art of play, but now that we’ve been engrossed in the Olympics, I’ve concluded  I’ve done my scholastic job by emphasizing geography.  My boys now recognize flags and country abbreviations.  They are learning which countries are in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean.  They are learning about language…just listen as a Chinese gymnast is on an apparatus.  They are getting music appreciation each time an anthem is played.  Points for Mama!

Exposure to culture and diversity is also happening…it isn’t every day that we get to see synchronized swimming or diving, cycling, badminton, pommel horse, or even beach volleyball.  We are watching as a family and it is something we are all enjoying, no more Power Rangers!  At least we are getting a few weeks off from all things cartoon. 

B and C are learning a bit about England.  (I'm assuming A is a bit too young, but he might just be absorbing it all.)  They’ve finally got all the names sorted out, “Whose Great Britain?  Who’s the United Kingdom?”

I love that their world is getting a bit smaller, more attainable.  The other day we were driving back from Idaho and Bren decided to explore the GPS.  He started giggling, “There’s China!  Now I’m in Portugal.  Hey, there’s Russia!  Dad!  Dad!  I found Manchester United.”  Each boy took turns with the touch screen, whizzing over land and sea, zooming in and out.”

Thanks to the Olympics, I’m going to get a gold medal this summer for achieving a bit of educational learning.  It was touch and go for a bit, but now when the boys return to teachers and books this fall they will be able to read such words as Botswana, Dominican Republic, and Australia.   And if there’s a flag recognition game, they might just smoke their competition.  But mostly they’ve seen what years of dedication and hard work can give someone:  satisfaction and pride.  Not a bad lesson to learn.  I love the Olympics.