A Legacy of Near Drowning

Legacy Matters!

He was a drunk. He was an angry, bitter, and battered man. He was a bad husband, a neglectful father and could not hold down a job. He was an end-of-his-rope drunk, considering what he should do next, but with little more than rage in him to figure it out.  He was about to be kicked out of his house. Certainly, his past, however, gave his desperate wife pause.

This outcome may not have come as a surprise to those who knew him. Even as a child, he was a delinquent.  He was a pesky youth; a son of Italian immigrants who just seemed to find trouble. He was a natural and stubborn athlete as well. As a matter of fact, stubbornness was perhaps his best quality.

One day, this stubborn, destructive man, and his frustrated wife, Cynthia, who had announced she was leaving, ran into their neighbor.  The neighbor told them of something going on in their town of Los Angles, CA. A young preacher named Billy Graham had set up a tent and invited the public to come and listen.

Cynthia sought a solution - any chance for a solution - but her husband refused to go. He had no desire to see a book salesman drone on about a non-caring, non-active God. Cynthia argued and pleaded for days, and finally, through a little bit of creative persuasion, got her husband to agree to see this preacher, Billy Graham, in his tent. The real reason her husband went, is because he loved science, and Cynthia insisted, Mr. Graham talks a lot about science.

Of course that first tent meeting had very little to do with science. The husband wanted nothing to do with the preacher, and left early and angry.  However, Louis Zamperini, did come back to hear the preacher, and did experience something that would forever change the course of his life – and many others as well.

What did Billy Graham say on that warm southern California night? “Here tonight, there’s a drowning man, a drowning woman . . . a drowning boy, a drowning girl that is lost in the sea of life,” Graham shouted through the microphone. That phrase began the radical turn around for Louis.

As you now know, if you’ve read Laura Hillenbrand’s beautiful and powerful book, Unbroken, Louis Zamperini knew all too well about drowning and being lost at sea. Zamperini’s Army Air Corps plane had crashed into the ocean in May 1943.  Louis and the only other survivors floated on a raft on the Pacific Ocean for 47 days, fending off starvation, sharks, and enemy fire.  Or maybe he understood suffering because of his two years as a Prisoner of War in a Japanese prison cell, where he was routinely mistreated, beaten, tortured, and brutalized.  No, Louis Zamperini was no stranger to drowning, suffering or being lost.

Meanwhile, the preacher, the North Carolina farm boy, who himself, was weary, exhausted from global travel, long hours and pressures from civic and business leaders, was also struggling with what he was suppose to be doing; with all the costs associated with his job. This is what he hid from the view of the people in the tent: he was wearing out. According to personal accounts, for many hours a day, seven days a week, he preached to vast throngs. Each sermon was a workout, delivered in a booming voice, punctuated with broad gestures. He got up as early as five, and he stayed in the tent late into the night, counseling troubled souls.

His weight dropped and there were circles under his eyes. At times he felt that if he stopped moving his legs would buckle, so he took to pacing his podium to keep himself from keeling over. It cost him to do what he was doing. He wanted to end his meetings, but their success convinced him to continue. The preacher was no stranger to drowning himself.

That tired preacher and the battered Olympian, war veteran, and drunk met on a fateful night in Los Angeles. Somehow, both found the strength to overcome.

Graham, just 2 years younger than Zamperini, had a lifetime in front of him to fulfill his calling. And Louis, having become a different creature that night in the tent, had a lifetime in front of him to fulfill his. Both men impacted thousands and thousands of people. Graham changed the trajectory of thousand of lives in hundreds of countries, and Zamperini doing the same in hundreds of local communities. Both came to the same outcomes through vastly different circumstances. Both lived for nearly 100 years.

“Louis wasn’t the only one in the tent,” author Laura Hillenbrand said in a recent article with Peggy Noonan. “Without Rev. Graham, Louie would not have lived. What reached into Louis’s soul,” she added, “was Graham’s ability to reach into the individual, the person in front of him—of God being interested in him personally.”

Both men simply served, in their own way.  The coincidental meeting of these two men, each committed to serving others, just adds more sweetness to their stories and legacies. Both men built a legacy from weariness, stress, and brokenness.  Both men gave credit where credit was due.

What is holding us back from radically impacting our communities and creating our legacy?  Is it over-work, suffering or is it graver?  What are we pursuing -- money or meaningfulness?  What barriers have we placed in front of us? Alcohol? Work? Pain? What is our purpose?  How do we serve others?

Billy Graham and Louis Zamperini discovered their purpose, via vastly different routes. The world is far better off because they lived out their convictions and served others, despite their weariness, brokenness and failures.

“Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.” -- Billy Graham

“God knew my needs and took care accordingly.” -- Louis Zamperini

And this is why, Legacy Matters...


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