‘Soul Surfer’ perfect pick for wintery Friday

There’s something about the truth that makes it inherently powerful.

It’s why The Blind Side garnered an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture and why, more than a decade later, we still remember the name Erin Brockovich.

Neither of those stories had the fantastic twists of an M. Night Shyamalan movie or the visual effects of Inception. But both of them had the truth. The truth that sometimes people come from a hard life on the streets and reach the NFL. The truth that sometimes one person does the right thing and saves an entire community.

The truth that sometimes the impossible, is possible.

That’s why Soul Surfer will linger in our hearts and minds, too. It’s based on the story of Bethany Hamilton, the 13-year-old surfer who lost her left arm in a shark attack and now surfs professionally.

The movie, available on DVD, offers beautiful scenery and surfing shots that will leave you in awe of the athletes; believable acting from veterans like by AnnaSophia Robb, Helen Hunt and Dennis Quaid; and a respectful handling of Hamilton’s deep faith.

Her youth pastor told me that just two days before the attack Hamilton and her mother had prayed that she would have a greater opportunity and platform to share her faith with others. Now, Hamilton is a role model who has been interviewed by media outlets across the world – and each time she seems to work in how God gives her strength and how he loves us all.

Soul Surfer doesn’t shy away from any of that. It gives credit to Hamilton’s dogged determination and her desire to turn something tragic into something beautiful. And it allows Hamilton to give credit where she believes it’s due.

She’s not perfect. She sneaks out with friends at night and she has moments of weakness and questioning after the attack. She’s human and that makes her story even more inspiring.

One scene in the movie shows her dad describing how difficult her training will be, how far she has to go in order to compete again.

“I don’t need easy,” she says. “I just need possible.”

Don’t we all.

An interview with youth pastor of ‘Soul Surfer’

Sarah Hill, who was played by Carrie Underwood in Soul Surfer, talks about the spiritual growth — and the hope — she sees in Bethany Hamilton…

1. What kind of change — if any — did you see in Bethany spiritually? Was she always close to God or did the accident draw her closer?

Bethany had a love for God at a very young age. She was one of those kids you could count on to make good choices. Two days before she was attacked by the shark, Bethany had asked her mom to pray with her because she wanted a greater opportunity and platform to share her faith with others.

She definitely clung to Christ more after the attack. She needed to draw her strength from the Lord to get through all the new changes and to have the strength to share her faith with the world.

2. In the movie you are seen as an encourager. What kinds of things did you say to support Bethany as she recovered? Obviously Bethany had gone through something that you couldn’t personally relate to, and she was scared and frustrated. What kinds of things did you do to help her through?

Although I never had my arm taken by a shark, I had experienced some similar and hard life changes. Right out of high school I broke my neck and back in a surfing accident. Due to the extremity of the accident I lost my dream and the scholarship I had to play college water polo.

It was a dark and lonely time in my life, a time of questioning God’s love and plan for me. When I was at my lowest I asked God if he was real, to speak to me. I felt if he didn’t I was going to give up on him. I opened my Bible right to 2 Corinthians, chapter12. There was one verse in red writing so I went there. Verses 9 and 10 were the verses I believe God gave me for comfort.

You see I had grown up in a very abusive home. I had seen a lot of heart ache and tragedy and felt as if my life had no purpose…I was ready to give up. God reminded me that day that my life wasn’t meaningless and he had me here for a purpose.

As I sat with Bethany each day in the hospital I would share with her God’s truths. I would pray with her, read the Bible to her, chat with her and just be there. I never tried to have the right words or answers for Bethany, I would simply ask God every time to guide me and be with me. He is the only source of strength I have to comfort anyone who is hurting.

3. When did you know Bethany was going to be OK emotionally and spiritually? When did you know she had made up her mind to thrive?

Each day Bethany’s strength would grow. I remember in the hospital the second day after the attack she told me that she was going to be a pro soccer player or photographer. Everyday she dreamed of new things and possibilities. There was nothing that was going to stop her.

I think the real confirmation for me was Thanksgiving morning. It was three weeks after the attack and her second day back to surfing. We went out surfing with a bunch of friends. It was a perfect day. The sky was clear, water glassy and the waves perfect. We paddled out and I with about 20 others watched her catch her first wave. I couldn’t help but cry. I don’t think there was a dry eye out there. I knew at that moment that not only had she pulled through but was going to forever change the world.

4. What have you learned from Bethany?

Bethany has taught me to not be a complainer and treasure the life you have. Be comfortable on your own skin and don’t take things too seriously. She helped push me to get back in the water and to not let fear keep me from living. She has taught me so much and continues to teach me. I love her.

5. What do you think Bethany’s legacy will be?

Wow, I think, “What won’t her legacy be?” She leaves people speechless and blown away.

I think she would want her legacy to be known as a girl who was committed to follow God. A girl who took the platform God gave her, the “race” so to speak, and finished strong. She wouldn’t let opposition get in the way. She surfed with passion and devotion. She always seized the opportunity to help others and point them to Christ. She was a true inspirer.

6. What’s your wish for the people who come to see the movie? What’s the one thought you want them to leave the theater with? 

My prayer for the movie is that God uses it beyond any expectation I have. I pray it brings people hope and inspires them to keep going. There is a lot of hopelessness and uncertainty in the world today. So many people are paralyzed by their circumstances and feel like there is nowhere to turn or no point in living. I think it would be impossible for people to see this film and have it not change their perspective. I hope it gets more people talking to Christ and looking to Him for answers. I want them to leave the movie knowing that no matter what they are going through, God’s promise is that he has a plan of good and not of evil for them, to give them a future and a hope.

Cardboard testimonials offer hope

I cry at the Hallmark channel and at the occasional country song, but even I was surprised when my eyes started to well up while checking Facebook the other day. A friend from long ago had posted a video made at her church, and it featured what they called cardboard testimonials.

It’s a simple concept, really. You cut up a cardboard box and on one side you write a problem you faced. On the other side, you write how God helped you through it. In my friend’s case, people took turns coming up to the front of the church. They showed their signs and then flipped them to show what God had done. One after another, after another.

  •  Breast cancer – survivor
  • Used drugs to feel good – Use God to feel ecstatic
  • Orphaned with no family – God provided a family
  • Brother killed by drunk driver – I have forgiven
  • $$$$ bondage – freedom obedience

For close to eight minutes the people stream by on the video, sharing some of the deepest parts of their souls in fewer than 10 words. I cried because of the pain they must have felt and I cried because I’m in love with hope, with overcoming the impossible. And every time the cardboard signs turned over, there she was – hope scratched in black marker.

I’m sure many of us could hold up our own signs. I know I would have trouble deciding on just one:

  •  Will I ever be loved? – married April 18, 2003
  • Drs said arm might not grow or move – played sports, trombone
  • The adoption isn’t going through – celebrating 3 years as family

I also have signs waiting for their happy endings, waiting for God to help me over, around – or even through – mountains of doubt and troubles. But those signs will come, too. Eventually I’ll be able to flip them over and share testimonies of hope.

My marker is ready.

‘Love-abouts’ offers new way to end the day

It started with an article in a women’s magazine – this germ of an idea to speak more positively, to gossip less. I was on my way to attend a difficult funeral in another state and there, behind the magazine advertisements for lipstick and wrinkle cream, was the tale of a somewhat cranky writer who gave up complaining for a week.

Inspired, I reached over and put my hand on my husband’s leg. I told him I loved him, and I really meant it because he was the only person in the car who was sitting quietly and not annoying me. Then, I tried to ignore the sound my oldest son makes when he is chewing gum. I lasted 30 seconds longer than normal. I counted that as saintly progress.

As the miles slid past and my interest in the magazine waned, I pulled out a small book by Mary Beth Egeling of Rochester, NY, called Love-abouts: Enriching Your Life and Deepening Your Relationships. In its 77 pages she explains how her family started a nightly tradition of telling each other one thing they love about each other. Then, they share one thing they love about themselves.

For the last couple of years I’ve been shopping around for a bedtime routine that works for all of our boys, who are 13, 4 and 1, so I began to really think about what she had written.

The tradition “forces a paradigm shift in the manner of viewing your day,” she writes in the book. “It causes you to be vigilant, requires your awareness, and makes you pay attention.” Even in the worst days, you still look for something praise worthy and you share it with others.

And somehow complaining and gossip start to slowly fade away – at least they did for me. When I shifted my focus, I noticed that my gum-smacking son never gives up on what he wants. I love that about him. And our middle, wiggliest guy is fearless about trying new things, even in the car.

Alas, a bedtime routine is born.

The power of a prayer journal

I’ve always been envious of people who go a step beyond buying journals — you know, the people who actually write in them.

Over the years, most of my journals have started the same way: “This time, I’m really going to write for more than just a day or two.”

Not surprisingly, they also end the same way… with lots of blank pages.

One journal is the exception, though, and that’s my prayer journal from 2001. That journal starts with explaining to God that my prayer life has been on life-support and asks for his help in getting closer to him.

For eight months I wrote my prayers — for new people settling in at work, for the man who would become my husband, and eventually for my daddy who died that year.

I’ve always wandered a bit in my prayers, meaning I’d start talking to God and jump from subject to subject. If I paused to try to listen for his voice, my mind would take off in another direction. Writing my prayers down helped all of that. I was more focused, and frankly, I found a new level of responsibility.

When I prayed for help in changing something about myself, it remained there on the page — in ink. I couldn’t forget that I needed work in that area.

Now, though, I know the most important thing that the prayer journal did for me was to peel back the layers of nicety. Somehow, it made prayer seem more like a conversation with my best friend, someone I didn’t need to dress up for.

My friend Rachel Doll grew up feeling that God was someone you needed to behave around. But when she and her husband, who is now a Presbyterian minister in Holley, NY, had a miscarriage, she was anything but well-behaved in her journal.

“Sometimes I had to skip pages because I had pressed down so hard that I couldn’t use the back,” she said, while one of her two daughters slept next to her.

Imagine God as a physical man, standing there in her home. She, a minister’s wife, was beating God’s chest and demanding answers.

“I would write horrible things that I would be embarrassed for anyone to know.”

But it felt powerful to question and freeing to express her anger and disappointment. Why would she endure all those infertility treatments only to have a miscarriage?

“Through writing I realized that God was there — not in the warm fuzzy way that I wanted, not hugging me and fixing things, but just standing there with me.”

And that was enough.

When Daddy died I remember praying that God would hold on to me because I wasn’t sure I could hold on to him. In fact, it took almost two months after Daddy’s death for me to make my next entry in my prayer journal.

I know you’ve carried me — even when I’ve tried to be angry with you. I’ve never felt so weak, Lord. I’ve never needed you so much.

A few years later I heard a woman say that when we pray, God is enclosing us in his hands. Then, to show us what she meant, she folded her hands together the way I had been taught to do in Sunday School.

That’s an image of prayer I can believe in.