Story behind "Hope is Never Inappropriate"

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Way back in 2012, I was sitting in a waiting room flipping through a People Magazine when I spied a tiny little picture that caught my attention. It's a miracle that I noticed at all. Just a few weeks before, we had brought home our Littles from Ethiopia. That means, it had been weeks since I'd slept. Weeks since I'd showered without little humans at my feet. Weeks of doing not much more than feeding starving bellies. I was so exhausted, I fell asleep every time I sat down. Which is probably why I picked up the magazine in the first place. It was the only way to keep my eyelids open while I waited.

What caught my eye was a tiny picture of Jon and Tim Foreman from Switchfoot with an older gentleman between them. It was like finding friends in the middle of People Magazine. "Hey there." Now I was awake. My favorite surfer-singer brothers were in the corner of a two-page collage of famous people celebrating Veteran's Day. Here's what I read:

Brothers Jon, 36, and Tim Foremen, 34, may have found fame as members of the Grammy-winning Christian group Switchfoot, but the real star of their family is their grandfather, an Air Force pilot in World War II, who was captured by the Nazis and kept in a German P.O.W. camp for 18 months after a bombing mission went awry. “He represents a time that’s hard to imagine,” Jon (above right) says. “There were many stories he told me about trying to escape. The lesson he taught me is that hope is always appropriate. He’s an incredible man.”

People Magazine, November 2012

Grandpa Al

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Retired Captain Alan Carlton holding a piece of his gunned down B-24 bomber.

Their grandfather is retired Air Force Captain Alan Carlton and as of this writing he is 100 years old. Grandpa Al is quite the hero. Listen to this.

They called it Big Week.

As 1943 turned into 1944, Allied commanders hatched a plan for a round the-clock aerial offensive against the Nazis, one of the largest bombing campaigns of the war.

American B-17s and B-24s stationed in England and Italy would attack airplane factories, munitions centers and other targets in Germany during the day. British planes would raid at night.

They hoped not only to strike at Germany’s industrial heart, but draw its fighter jets into a war of attrition and clear the skies in advance of the pivotal D-Day land invasion at Normandy planned for later that year.

For six days starting on Feb. 20, 1944, hundreds of B-17s and B-24s flew missions into Germany, dropping nearly 10,000 tons of bombs.

They paid a hefty price, losing about 250 bombers and fighters. Some 2,500 crew members were killed, injured, lost or captured.

Carlton was shot down during Big Week, on Feb. 24, 1944. The Detroit native had enlisted two years earlier, dropping out of medical school at Indiana University “to do my part in the war effort,” he said. “Everybody was joining.”

Part of the 567th Bomb Squadron based in Hethel, England, Carlton was on his 14th mission when his B-24 D Liberator, built at Consolidated in San Diego, was hit by enemy fire, first over Holland, and then over central Germany.

Machine-gun bursts from Luftwaffe fighter planes killed his tail gunner and two waist gunners, and sent the B-24 rolling. Everybody else parachuted out the bomb bay doors, with Carlton exiting last.

His came down between two trees, suspended in the air. After cutting himself free, he hobbled away, but his right foot — wounded by shrapnel when the plane got shot — trailed blood in the snow. German civilians hunted him down about two hours later and held him at gunpoint until the military arrived.

From there he was interrogated briefly, then put on a train and sent to Stalag Luft I, a prison camp for Allied air crews located near Barth, Germany, on the Baltic Sea. Nearly 9,000 British and American aviators were captive there.

A journal Carlton kept during his imprisonment includes drawings he made of the camp, as well as a map of his ill-fated mission. It has lists of books he read and movies he saw, and recipes the prisoners used for meals made from care-package ingredients like Spam. And meals made from animals.

“Whatever we could catch, we ate,” Carlton said. When Russian forces liberated the camp in early May 1945, his weight had dropped to about 100 pounds.

John Wilkens of the Indiana Gazette

Can you even imagine? Flying across enemy lines, getting shot down and captured, living as a Prisoner of War for a year and a half and surviving long enough to come home. Even more, returning home able to say, "Hope is always appropriate."

Hope is Always Appropriate

That line, "Hope is always appropriate," is what grabbed me on the page of People Magazine. Really? In the middle of all that, hope was appropriate?

I looked it up. Here's a description of a POW camp in Germany during WWII.

  • minimal shelter, not significant enough to ward off the cold

  • food (thin soup and black bread), usually around 1500 calories/day

  • uncertainty of how long they would remain in captivity

  • work details

  • loss of control

  • interrogation

  • boredom

I could not relate to starving on food rations or being interrogated. But, loss of control, I could relate to that. I was sitting in a waiting room trying to survive the cosmic shift of adopting two starving babies from Africa. I had lost control. As I thought about it, I could relate to "hope is always appropriate" too. It rang true to my soul. I was living it out. My babies were healing. I was surviving. Hope was indeed appropriate. I started saying the phrase to myself. Then to others. It became my personal mantra. Hope is always appropriate.

Six years after I read that phrase, I collapsed. Even there, knees in the grass, I believed hope is always appropriate. Through four ambulance rides and three ICU's, I believed hope is always appropriate. For three uncertain weeks, I believed hope is always appropriate. Then came the moment we never wanted to face, the decision to remove part of my lung. No promises. No other options. Did I still believe hope is always appropriate?

The night before my surgery, friends came to pray with Chris and me. We rearranged pleather chairs in the hospital waiting room forming a circle so we could hold hands. They prayed for full healing. I cried as I listened. "God, heal Nicole's lungs. Surprise the surgeon. Give her full healthy lungs again." I listened and I wondered, "Can I pray those words too? Is hope always appropriate? Even here? HERE? Do I really believe that hope, in this risky moment, is appropriate?

Hope is Never Inappropriate

When I heard those words spoken in my mind, I knew, YES, I still believed. Hope is always appropriate. But I needed to change the words. The mantra wasn't enough anymore. I don't know why. I just knew, for me, I needed to hear it in the opposite. To close the door to any loopholes my mind might create in the word "always." So I said these words to myself, "Hope is NEVER inappropriate." Even here, in this risky moment, it is not silly, crazy, or inappropriate to hope in the Creator of the universe. The One who spoke the stars into existence. Who holds the oceans back. He created my lungs. He can heal my lungs. He can keep me alive.

Hope is never inappropriate.

  • No matter how crazy the circumstances are.

  • No matter how scared I am.

  • No matter what the doctors are saying.

  • No matter what the God-given dream looks like.

  • No matter where I have failed in the past.

  • No matter what details I do not know.

  • No matter how weak I am.

  • No matter how hard the beginning is.

  • No matter how lonely it feels.

  • No matter how long it takes.

Hope is never inappropriate. Not here. Not anywhere.

My hope lies in the One who has done it all. Who never changes. Who can do more than we ask or imagine. It is never inappropriate to put my hope in Him.

Fight for Hope

Grandpa Al wrote a poem while he was a POW that includes this truth:

It’s a hell of a life and you feel the strain

But you’d do the same thing all over again.

Still you pray for the day when there’ll be no more war

When you’ll see what it is you’ve been fighting for.

Captain Alan Carlton

Seven decades later, his grandson wrote these words:

My lungs and I were born to fight

Sometimes I'm not sure what I'm fighting for

But death ain't the only end in sight

Cause this ain't a battle it's a lifelong war

My heartbeat, my oxygen

My banner, my home

My freedom, my song

Your hope is the anthem of my soul

Jon Foreman/Switchfoot "Hope is the Anthem"