Sunday, February 20, 2011

By The Grace of God

Some of you know this, but some of you don't - my family exists today because of the grace of God. If it weren't for grace, for miracles, my grandpa wouldn't have lived through World War II, he would have never met my grandma, my dad wouldn't have been born, and I wouldn't have been born. And not just one miracle. Lots of miracles.

Why am I telling you this? Cuz this woman visited us in December.

This is Ursula. And she's family. What? You can't see the familial resemblance? Okay, well, maybe not by blood, but in heart, she's family. My grandpa owes his life to the kindness and generosity of her family and we couldn't be more thankful!

So how did it come to pass that we have Ursula in our lives? I will give you the short version. My grandpa wrote a whole book about it, so if you want more details you are so very welcome to borrow a copy and read all about it!

In World War II, my grandpa was serving in the Navy. He was a radioman and flew in a TBF Avenger. While on a mission over the Solomon Islands (Papua New Guinea), his plane was shot down by a Japanese Zero. The other two men of his crew were killed but my grandpa somehow survived. Miracle #1! He had a pretty bad bullet wound to his thigh too. Miracle #2 that it wasn't deeper in the leg or anywhere else! Miracle #3 happened shortly after he hit the water. His life raft popped up for him, somehow avoiding the snarled and tangled mess of metal on the way up!

He drifted in the raft for 15 days before coming to a group of islands called the Carterets. Miracle #4! I don't know if you know this,'s a pretty dang big ocean! The fact that the current he just happened to be on brought him to friendly natives within a survivable amount of time is amazing. Not to mention he didn't die of heat stroke, starvation, dehydration, or sharks in the meantime & that his raft wasn't punctured in about 100 different places by the reef because he just happened to enter the lagoon through a low spot on the reef. Miracle #5-9?

Miracle #10 - The natives were friendly! And what an amazing group of people they were and still are! They nursed my grandfather back to health and provided for him for almost 7 months. His stories of his days on the island are fascinating!

And his story could have easily stopped there. Instead of an American, I could have been a sweet little Papua New Guinea girl because he could have lived out his days there! Not that I wouldn't have minded a little bit of a tan and growing up on a tropical island!

Instead, another plane was shot down in almost the exact spot as my grandpa's, the survivors, this time 9 of them, drifted in the same current, and landed in the same group of islands. If you're still thinking "coincidence" at this point, I think it takes more faith to believe that! My grandpa and a few of those men eventually took a canoe to Choiseul, a larger island occupied by the Japanese. Actually they took two different trips - the first attempt, the canoe sank in the lagoon! Miracle! (I've lost count at this point) How is that a miracle? If it had taken even a few more hours to sink, they could have been in open ocean when it went down and that wouldn't have been good! Miracle! - They actually made it to Choiseul. It wasn't close! And I can attest that traveling over 100+ miles in open ocean in a small boat isn't a piece of cake! (I'll get to that in a moment) And once they made it to Choiseul, they managed to not be spotted by any of the thousands of Japanese there, but instead found some of the few coastwatchers stationed there. After that they were officially rescued and sent rescue for the men still on the island.

By any account, there really is no other reasonable explanation that my grandpa should have survived that experience and is around today to hug my children, than it was by the grace of God! And my family tries to live in gratitude of that grace every day!

So back to Ursula! She is the great, great grand-niece of the chief of the islands when my grandpa was there. In the 80s, my grandpa got in contact with some missionaries that had been to the islands and they put him in contact with Ursula and her cousin Thomas. We have had several visits with both of them, including a trip that I, my parents and my aunt & uncle took back to the islands. What an amazing experience that was! Aside from getting to skip 2 weeks of school, which any highschooler would love, I got to see one of the most beautiful places in the world and personally thank people who were a part of saving my grandpa. (I also managed to offend an entire population of islanders because no one bothered to tell me that it was improper for a female to show her thighs, and here I was walking around in a bathing suit for 3 days. Thanks for the heads up people!)

Ursula had a layover in the US while traveling home from a conference on climate change. I am so glad my children got a chance to meet her! After all she is family!

My family now has a tradition that every August 24th, we take drink a big glass of water, in remembrance of the day my grandpa was shot down. And we also take that time to be thankful for how God has blessed our family. How has God shown Himself to be evident to you and your family? Perhaps (and hopefully) it's not with such dramatic events! Don't be too quick to dismiss miracles as chance or coincidences!

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