Friday, January 8, 2010

Hauoli Makahiki Hou...God is Aloha.

Anybody who has known me through my forty-five years in this world probably would say one of two things: 1. He's the luckiest person I've ever met, or 2. God must have a dedicated squad of angels watching over that guy.

Depending where on the timeline of my spiritual walk I happened to be determined my own view of the matter at that given point. You might say I've really pushed the envelope most of my life. Physically I've slowed down quite a bit in recent years, but boy how do I pay for all those earlier stunts from younger days.

I was always the one to dive in and do or try absolutely anything...and still am to some degree. With no regards for safety or sanity, it's no wonder I chose the Marine Corps as a means to serve my country (and pay for my education I might add). Because when it comes to adrenaline rushes and taking things to the extreme, Marines lead the way.

I was stationed at the Kaneohe Marine Corps Air Station on New Years Eve in 1987/88 when a devastating floor ravaged the island of Oahu. It's hard to imagine an island flooding, but keep in mind all the Hawaiian islands follow the same template with high mountains in the center sloping rapidly to ocean level. After several days of steady rain, a torrential downpour sent many metric tons of water rushing through valleys and literally taking everything in the path with it to the ocean.

Neighborhoods that were ill-equipped to handle the excessive amount of water became flooded and littered with debris that included dead livestock washed from higher elevations. It was a natural disaster that the windward side of the island didn't have a plan to address...and the state government knew it.

As luck would have it, yours truly was the Officer of the Day on duty at the time a plea for help came from the state, so it became my job to rally the troops. I don't think it would surprise you to hear that finding a sober Marine on New Years eve is a fairly daunting task, but after an hour or so, I managed to put together about 50 fit Marines and a couple of dozen heavy hauling trucks and tracked vehicles to venture out and help.

After working through most of the night and next morning, we had literally moved dozens of households to safer accommodations. The water had continued to rise through the entire process and was getting close to roof line levels. There was one house in particular that would end up causing me added problems. Water was at 5 feet and rising when one Marine swam in to check out for people inside. He came back out of the house to inform me there was a man inside who was refusing to leave. Without thinking, I dove into the water from the truck and entered the house.

Now God has blessed me in a number of ways in my life, but the blessing of height is not one of those blessings. So in 5 feet of rushing water, I'm swimming instead of walking. When I reached the door going into the house, I noted the water was coming up rather steadily and would soon cover the top of the doorway. I paddled through to find a man on top of his refrigerator clinging desperately to a box. Inside the box was a collection of 8 or so bottles of liquor...I'm not talking high-end, top shelf stuff liquor.

He emphatically insisted he was not leaving without the box. After back and forth banter for a minute or so, I went back through the doorway to recruit help with his extraction. Unfortunately, the house right next door was sliding from its foundation while a couple were on the rooftop with the house breaking apart beneath them, so all my potential reinforcements had shifted to conduct yet another hasty rescue. I was on my own. Before going back through the doorway, I stopped to collect myself and asked God to help me do what I needed to do. My spiritual walk was seriously lacking during this time in my life, but not so much that I didn't know I was going to need God's help.

Back in I went. I firmly told the local man that if he didn't swim to me...he was going to drowned in his house. The water had come up another half foot or so. He started crying and clinging to the box more firmly and declared in a panicked voice that he couldn't swim. I know... you are thinking the same thing I did at the do you live in Hawaii and not know how to swim? I made my way over to him and told him to relax and let me drag him through the water and out of the house. As he continued to become more and more distraught, I knew drastic measures were needed...without another thought, I knocked him out.

By this time, I had to literally dive under the top of the doorway with 'box man' in tow. It would have been near impossible to bring him out while fighting him at the same time. I acted in the most natural way for me without regards to the numerous potential consequences. It could have turned out a number of different ways...several of which would have resulted in both of us dying that day.

Several months later, I was recognized by the State of Hawaii for leading the rescue effort which resulted in a face-to-face meeting with the Governor at the time, John Waihee. There were so many acts of bravery during the flood by so many different people. But for some peculiar reason, the one I just shared with you took on a life of its own. As I was shaking Govenor Waihee's hand at an awards ceremony, he said in his thick Hawaiian accent, 'God favors you young man. He was watching over you during those days.' He had heard about the incident himself. Standing very close by was the very man that I had assaulted and nearly drowned trying to rescue. He was crying and holding the hand of his grandson that I got the privilege to later meet. I've never accepted compliments well in my's one of my many shortcomings. But I remember distinctly at that moment instead of pride, I felt a sense of embarrassment. Today I understand why...

What happened that day had nothing to do with me. God knew the type of person that needed to be at that very spot at that very moment. He used me just being me for His own purpose. Let me go another step. The words Gov. Waihee spoke to me that day had a reaching and profound effect on me. Most Hawaiians are not known for following a Christian faith, but I later learned in a personal letter that Gov. Waihee was a committed Christian man. What he said to me that day...he truly believed. I realized in my heart then that God had answered my prayer that day, and He was with me... as He had been through numerous other stunts, incidents or accidents in my life. A conflict within me started that would go on for 10 more years but ultimately result in a rededication of my life to Him.

My major regret today is that my own ignorance and stubbornness prevented me from giving God all the glory and credit while I had that stage in 1988. All I can do is make up for that today by sharing a story from my life where I know God was with me, and I could do it with so many other examples throughout my past forty-five years too. Each and every one an example of God watching over a pitiful wretch like me. I praise Him...I love Him...I worship Him...and I thank Him for being God.


David said...

Hawaiians that don’t swim is like Vermonters that don’t drive in the snow and southern Californians that don’t surf – oh and Christians that don’t pray.

A moving story, Tony! I think that so many Christians get caught up in doing certain things, while forgetting the heart aspect of it all. If we would just receive Jesus and let the new man out, things would go better.

Thanks for sharing God in your life -

Tracy said...

Hey wait a second David - I'm a Californian and, like most of us, have never surfed. Oh well....

Tony, what an awesome story; thanks for sharing it. Isn't our God so incredible?! I never cease to be amazed at how His use of us is about Him, not us. It's so beautiful to see how He used you to save another and to bring Glory to His name even when you weren't, at that time, all about Him.

Chris Denning said...

Loved the story, Tony! Thanks. I know God has always been protecting me when I wasn't being especially committed to Him. I attribute it to my mother's prayers. She said her great-great-great grandfather took it upon himself to pray specifically for five generations of family. She was the last generation and has committed herself to pray for the next five. I'm sure someone was praying for you!