Recently my movie going experiences and life surrounding movies has changed, shucks for that matter, my whole life has changed. You see I have become involved in the life of a little 8-year-old boy named Tyler Graebner. Tyler and I have a couple of passions that we share; Wrestling & Movies.
I became aware of Tyler ’s plight on December 3rd, 2004 . Since then my life and hopefully his, hasn’t been the same. I came across Tyler ’s story while visiting a forum board I moderate at www.usawks.com a Kansas Wrestling web site. The post, made my Mike Juby simply made mention of the fact that this little 8-year-old boy named Tyler was fighting for his life. You see, Tyler has two forms of cancer, Liver and Pancreatic. The success rate for survival of these diseases world wide is only around 25%. I don’t know what it was that moved me about the post and newspaper article, especially when you look at the simplicity of them. Maybe it was just that this little 8-year-old boy while laying in his hospital bed only wanted to wrestle. I don’t know why, maybe it was because during the last year I had lost a sister in law to cancer. Maybe it was that the church I pastor at had recently had our former pastor diagnosed with cancer. Maybe it was that a friend of mine named Aaron Sweazy a former college wrestler himself was diagnosed with cancer, I don’t know, I just know that I was move and it was as if a gentle breeze had blown through me like a mighty rushing wind.
I decided that I had to do something for Tyler , it wouldn’t be much. I simply made a few posts on a few internet message boards about Tyler suggesting that people think of this young man, pray for him, and if possible assist in taking up funds that would help meet his $800 a month medicine costs that the insurance does not cover. This was only a small fraction of the thousands of dollars that the family faced in uncovered medical expense but it was something that affected me. Since then however, I have found out far more about cancer and our medical systems in America then I would ever want to.
I have found out what it is like to look a father in the eye as he tells me that without the Family Medical Leave Act in America he may not be able to continue in his job. I have learned what it is like for a small boy to take almost weekly 4-hour trips to the hospital for chemo treatments where he ends up staying for a week or more. I have learned also about the generosity of Humanity. I have learned that the wrestling community, (the real thing, not the professional “sports entertainment” that you see on television.) is really a family that helps take care of their own. If the church only modeled half of the love that the wrestling community has shown then Christianity would have a much greater and far more positive effect on people. I have seen the benefit of places like The Ronald McDonald House that makes it possible for family to spend time with their children without worrying about additional costs of motels. I have seen that a little boy with cancer is still first and foremost, a little boy. I have also seen that boy and his family provide hope and inspiration to me, a tough, gruff, inner city, wrestling pastor. Outside of my faith in Christ, and my family, Tyler has provided me with more inspiration and hope than anyone I have ever met. He has truly become my living, breathing, hope and inspiration to do something more with my life. He has made me a better man, and hopefully a better father, husband and human being. It is amazing at how God has used a small child to show me the desires and need of loving each other from the Kingdom of Heaven .
I have started spending time with Tyler , along with my son, as much time as possible. I look forward to our Sunday afternoons together. It is here that we share some of our common love. On Sunday afternoon, as much as possible, I take my family on a 45-minute trek to see Tyler . We all look forward to it, especially my son who loves to play PS2 games with Tyler , and we have also been going to see movies together, then getting a bite of to eat or ice cream after the show. It is a great expense for me, one who doesn’t make much money, but it is one that is well worth it. It is the most valuable financial contribution that I make now.
As of late, we have seen two movies together, Fat Albert and Racing Stripes. It is in the movie going experience that I have also seen the power and benefit of movies and those two in particular have played a tremendous role in bringing a laugh and a smile to Tyler . That may not seem like much, but when having to get daily medication injections through a port that goes into your skin, when having to go through the nausea of chemo and radiation, a laugh can be a valuable thing. I have found myself trying to give laughs as much as possible, realizing the value of that laugh. Often times, while grateful for that laugh, I find myself with tears, realizing how I have taken little things like that for granted, especially when considering the battle that Tyler himself faces on an hour to hour basis right now. His family deserves that to, but instead they continue to face the struggles of life related to having a son with cancer. The medical costs, the time off work, the education, and then there are all of those who wants to present every new cure known to man. From the latest tea or vitamin supplement to some new gadget that reverses the effects of radiation and chemo, they hear and see all, when in reality all they want is their son to be well, and then be a regular family again. They have as well seen the value of movies, ps2 games, and more importantly friends and family.
Over the last couple of weeks, I took Tyler to see both Fat Albert and Racing Stripes. Both movies deal with the same type of subject matter, having hope, becoming better, and making a difference. There is also an underlying theme of “don’t be afraid to be who you are.” I have seen those messages resonate in the life of Tyler . Both movies are well done. They find places to encourage us all that it is okay to be who you are. Those messages are no better understood than from a child who because of chemo treatments has lost his hair. I remember talking to Tyler about how he and I having the same haircut, but it was only after I saw him watching Fat Albert that I felt truly comfortable talking to him about this. At the time, Tyler had been wearing his stocking cap through the movie. There is a scene in the movie where Fat Albert is talking to one of the characters about her being okay with who she is, she didn’t need to be something she wasn’t.. During that scene I glanced over and watched Tyler take off his stocking cap, willing to be who he is, not carrying about what people thought of his bald head. Since then I have seen him go out in public more and more, showing off the bald head. There is a wonderful scene in another movie called The Ride that displays this very thing. A scene where a number of friends have their head shaved because they want to be able to better relate to a friend who also has cancer. Tyler has experienced some of those same benefits, the benefit of someone saying, “Hey man I shaved my head too because it looks cool and I want to look like Tyler .”
There was another scene at the end of Fat Albert where we see the Fat Albert Family standing around the grave of the original Fat Albert that the character was based on. We see these characters growing old, but still desiring to be children at heart. Here we are reminded not only of death but also of the value of living and enjoying life while we are alive. Tyler has demonstrated that to me more than any individual I have met in my 45+ years of life. My hopes and prayers, is that the courage he has learned through life and the difficult and challenging sport of wrestling will carry on for years to come. I hope that he teaches those lessons to me for the next 45 years as he grows old and eventually has a family of his own. I hope and pray that my grandchildren will play and wrestle with his children. Our planet has lost far too many valuable contributors to this dreaded disease and it would be a horrific shame to loose another like Tyler .
This last week, I asked Tyler if he wanted to go see a movie or have me bring over another movie, Reversal, that he had been wanting to see. He told me, “Let’s go to the movie, then get something to eat, then after we get something to eat, we can watch Reversal.” Just like a little kid, one who was able to find a solution to meet his every desire for the moment. So to say the least, he won out and we did things the way he wanted.
Tyler, my son, and a friend of my son about Tyler ’s age went to see Racing Stripes. Many of the prevalent themes in Fat Albert exist here as well. A Zebra who wants to be a racing horse, but one whom never gives up on his dreams and is willing to fight overwhelming obstacles to obtain his dream. Again, Tyler is a living example of one who has to overcome overwhelming obstacles. Many individuals in life, even those part of our Hollywood Jesus team have had to face those types of battles recently. Yet, movies like Racing Stripes go a long ways in providing a measure of hope to those having to find it. While the ultimate hope for many is not in a movie, those movies can help provide the nudge that many need. They can be reminders of the hope that one can obtain, and they can also be reminders to those of us who can be there to nudge that person towards ultimate hope.
In Racing Stripes we see something else that reminds me of my association with Tyler . We see the one having the dreams being surrounded by others who are helping them overcome the obstacles in life. We see all kinds of characters, some inspirational, and some disgusting, yet they all have the desire to help the individual overcome their challenges. Again, the story with Tyler has exhibited that for me. I can see many who has a faith in God, yet others who don’t coming out of their shells helping Tyler . I have also seen individuals using their own strengths to assist, just like in the movie Racing Stripes. For Tyler it has been to say the least, miraculous. From World Champions and Olympians, to NBA Superstars and Celebrities, the out poring of support has been tremendous. This last Sunday before going to the movies Tyler’s mom showed gave me a look at the letters of support from People like Cael Sanderson, a 2004 Olympic Gold Medal Winner who tells Tyler that he is moved and made a better person because of the testimony of fighting on that Tyler provides. I have seen people like Eric Akin a top ranked world wrestler who will be featured on Pax Televisions and Fox Sports in the new television series Real Pro Wrestling that starts in March be moved to bring together numerous World and National Champions to help attend and teach at clinics for Tyler . I have seen people like T.C. Dantzler a 2-time world Greco Champion and Olympian, take Tyler under his wing and bring in people like Rulon Gardner, a 2 time Olympic medalist. I could go on and on but you probably get the point.
Recently I have done numerous interviews and spoken to numerous individuals about Tyler . I am often asked, “Why are you involved in this? Why are you doing so much for this little boy?” I don’t really have a set answer for that but I just know that I tried to listen to the gentle whisper of God and feel the gentle breeze. I often share the passage out of 1 Kings 19:9b-13 about Elijah finding God in the gentle breeze, which was the same as a gentle whisper.
…While Elijah was on Mount Sinai , the Lord asked, “Elijah, why are you here?”
He answered, “Lord God All-Powerful, I’ve always done my best to obey you. But your people have broken their solemn promise to you. They have torn down your altars and killed all your prophets, except me. And now they are even trying to kill me!”
“Go out and stand on the mountain,” the Lord replied. “I want you to see me when I pass by.”
All at once, a strong wind shook the mountain and shattered the rocks. But the Lord was not in the wind. Next, there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. Then there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.
Finally, there was a gentle breeze, and when Elijah heard it, he covered his face with his coat. He went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.
The Lord asked, “Elijah, why are you here?” (Contemporary English Version)
This has been the challenge that I have made to many, and would hope that movies in part can make for each of us. We don’t have to focus on the big, super powerful components of life to find out what it is that God has for us to do in this life. Sometimes in searching for those big things, we loose sight of the true things that are important. That is why the challenge to listen to the gentle whisper or the gentle breeze of life is so important. That has been the challenge for each person and is the challenge that Tyler has reminded me of. It might be helping an elderly person or homebound person with a meal, maybe taking a small child to the movie, maybe even something simpler like putting gas in the tank of someone’s car who don’t have much money. Those little things, those simple things, can, and sometimes do, lead to much bigger things. Truth be told, if we do those little things, just like the movie Pass It On demonstrates, we can make a tremendous difference in the life of someone else with the help of God.
That has been the challenge over the last weeks, listening to the gentle breeze and gentle whisper from God. What difference are you making? What does that breeze feel like and what is that whisper saying?The Virtual Pew and our other work is supported solely by the kind contributions of others. You can click on the donate button below to give any amount to this work that does so much more than just post articles on the net; I draw no ongoing salary from the church I pastor, Mosaic Wichita which is predominantly a homeless church; I am grateful for any small amount you can contribute to help with this ministry. Believe me there is much more going on than most realize. I will also provide information to verify the ministry and income that comes into this ministry and work. Thanks and feel free to share any material from The Virtual Pew, I only ask that appropriate credit is given and a link to the original site with the materials provided.
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