Jul 22, 2007
1 : a substance that enables a chemical reaction to proceed at a usually faster rate or under different conditions (as at a lower temperature) than otherwise possible
2 : an agent that provokes or speeds significant change or action
The list of people on this list was easy to come up with and fun to write about. All I did was look at the things that are part of my every day (or almost-everday) life from mundane habits to passionate interests and asked myself why am I like this? When a person's name immediately came to mind, I knew I had a Catalyst. Catalysts are people that provoked or sped up a significant change or action in my life. It's not surprising then, that with almost all of these people (Alex, I think, would be the one exception) I can point a specific time, almost to the day, if I thought about it, when they did or said something that changed the way I live of my life, or added a fresh new dimension to it.
This Catalyst list is also unique in that it features the only person on my list of 65 to be named twice. There are many people who have influenced me in multiple ways of course, but Bev Cabanatan is unique in that her name popped to mind twice as I was running through my list of Catalysts for very obvious and distinctly different reasons. I had no choice but to list her twice (though she is only counted once, of course!). Congratulations Bev! And thanks to all my Catalysts for turning my life around in ways big and small!
Beverly Cabanatan & Lori Cerna
Crystal Pierson & Beverly Cabanatan
I don’t really know how I got into the performing arts but I’m pretty sure Alex had something to do with it. I met Alex during college. He was an aspiring writer and an actor and director with Impressions, Andrews University’s resident theater troupe (I believe my first piece written for the stage was for Alex to use with Impressions. I can’t even remember what the sketch was about). Back then we ran around with two other aspiring writers, Beau and Ian, calling ourselves The Four Horsemen (I know, I know. We were all writers and yet we couldn’t come up with anything more original than that). We used to get together to share our writing, bemoan our fate with women, and dream up great story ideas. I don’t recall being particularly inspired by all this bohemian brotherhood. I don’t remember thinking—“Wow, I definitely want to get involved with theater somehow in the future.” We were just hanging out. Marking time. Well, eventually Beau got married. Then Alex. Then Me. (We always knew Ian would be the last of us to settle down. I’m not sure if he ever did.) We went our separate ways. But my first year in Saipan, I signed up to teach the drama class, and it all went from there. . I’ve been the director of my own traveling drama ministry for seven years now. I’ve written five plays, one adaptation for the stage and a couple of shorter sketches. I was co-writer and co-director of a 13 episode televison drama. I’ve even done a little acting here and there. And when I look back to try to figure out where this all began, I keep coming back to Alex Prouty. If I ever make the big time in movies, TV, or theater, I’ll have to remember to thank Alex first.
The most any one can ask of their profession, is to make a difference. We’d all like to think that what we do will actually do some good. The trick is that, to make a difference, you have to be committed, passionate, a hard worker, and you have to be good at what you do. It's an added bonus if you have a winning personality and can tell a good story. Well, Bev and Lori have got it all and then some. And they have made a difference in my life and, I’m willing to bet, in the lives of a lot of other people too. Bev and Lori are dental hygienists and because of them, I floss. Between the two of them--first Lori during one of her energetic, entertaining, and compelling dental hygiene presentations at our school a few years back, and then Bev, with her blog entries and Simpson’s cartoons—I’ve become convinced of the importance of maintaining my dental health, especially through regular flossing. They influenced me because they believed passionately in what they do---it’s not just a job for them, it’s a mission--and because they presented their information in a common-sense, accessible way. As a measure of Bev’s influence, in particular, I find that on those (generally rare) occasions when I don’t floss, I find myself thinking, as if it were a little prayer, “Sorry, Bev.” She cares about her patients' health, and I find I don’t want to let her down!
Big deal! you say, It’s just flossing. I thought these blogs were about important influences!
Not important? Talk to Bev or Lori. Five’ll get you ten, you’ll be flossing tonight.
“Would you be interested in writing a script for a TV series with a Christian theme,” Cliff asked, “It would be set right here in Saipan using local talent.” It was the winter of 2001, not long after my theater troupe had performed at a worship service at New Covenant Life Church, the charismatic congregation of Pastor Cliff Shoemake. He’d invited me to lunch to discuss his new brainstorm. Now Cliff didn’t yet have any actors, didn’t have any cameras, didn’t have any money. He did have a great idea and a lot of faith, and for Pastor Cliff that was enough. Intrigued, I signed on. And doors opened. I introduced Cliff to my friend Galvin the director of the Catholic Mt. Carmel School Theater Club—he would end up co-writing and directing with me. Galvin introduced us to the rough-hewn film and TV veterans at Talk Story Studios, who in turn would eventually bring to Saipan the man who would become one of my key mentors, Hollywood actor, writer and director Dan Shor. We shot the pilot, aired it, and shot the rest of the series before running out of money. The project ground to halt, Cliff had long moved on to the Next Big Thing, and the unedited remaining episodes languished on a stockroom shelf. But by that time it didn’t matter—the course had been set. Other opportunities to learn about and work with the medium of film continued—and still continue--to come in. It turned out that jumping on Cliff’s bandwagon opened a score of opportunities and introduced a new passion in my life.
Crystal Pierson & Beverly Cabanatan
I’d always wished there was a way to share our experiences of life in Saipan with our family and friends back on the Mainland. Sure we’d show them photos and home video, but no matter what we did there was always the sense they didn’t really get it. We just knew that deep down they really believed we were living in huts and canoeing our way to the mission school, hoping we didn’t get jumped by cannibals on the way. More than that, we wanted them to understand why we continued to stay out in Saipan year after year. And then in the spring of 2006 Crystal said, “Check out our blog!” I did, and there it was; the solution. I could blog! Crystal explained how simple it was, showed me the ropes, and I was off and blogging. Crystal showed me that blogging could be a great way to share with family friends. And then Bev came along and showed me that blogging could be a way of life. Thanks to her, I joined the “blogging community,” started reading other blogs, honing my writing style, and branching beyond the basic “here’s what we did this week” format. I’ll always be grateful to Crystal for introducing to me to the world of blogging, and to Bev for helping me kick it into high gear. Chances are you wouldn’t be reading this right now if it hadn’t been for Crystal and Bev.
As I collapsed in agony at the end of my mile and half run for college phys ed class, I swore that I would never run again unless I was running for my life. I hated running: the gasping for breath, the stich in the side, the burning muscles, the throbbing head. You could never have convinced me that running might actually be fun. And yet Vince did exactly that. Right around Christmas of 2005, Vince, who was then a teacher at the Saipan SDA School, invited me to go running with her. To be honest, I can’t imagine why I said yes—after all I hated running—but I did. And to my pleasant surprise, I found it wasn’t so bad. In fact, as we continued to run every Tuesday and Thursday evening for the rest of the school year, I found that it could actually be fun. There was one simple adjustment in my approach to running that Vince taught me, and that made all the difference in the world: I learned to pace myself (a simple thing I’d never bothered to do when I was running for a P.E. grade in school). By simply running just a little bit slower, I found all the things I despised about running disappeared, and in their place I found gorgeous Saipan sunsets along the Beach Road pathway, the steady snap of shoes hitting pavement in rhythm to my ipod, and the glow of accomplishment as I ran my first 5 and then 10 kilometer runs. Eventually, I even learned to enjoy feeling the burn of pushing myself. I’d gone from only running for my life to being a runner for life.
Vince and I haven’t run together now in almost a year, but I’m pretty sure I’ll run into her one of these days.
In the spring of 1994 a lot of the music I was listening to just didn’t quite fit with where my spiritual life was heading. I knew it, but I couldn’t imagine reducing my musical catalogue to Michael W. Smith, Sandi Patti, Take 6 and of course an endless supply of dreary hymns with arcane lyrics. I valued musical variety and quality too much. I remember praying, “Lord, you’re going to have to provide me with something just as good as the music I listen to now.” In His typical style, He provide me with something even better, and He did so through an affable fellow by the name of Carl Waldron. He said, “I’ve got some good music for you. And it’s Christian.” I was skeptical. Good music was for the world. Everybody knew that.
Well, Carl Waldron knew differently. Carl introduced me to a wealth of Christian recording artists that I’d never heard of. . .artists who were creating high quality, original music that talked about Jesus, of all things. I think back to some of those early artists, and they don’t seem that cutting-edge compared to the Christian artists that are making serious inroads in the secular market today, but there was at least one who would grow to have a tremendous impact on my spiritual life in his own right, a singer-songwriter by the name of Rich Mullins. With the many new artists Carl introduced me to, I noticed that my listening habits shifted strongly—and permanently-- in the direction of music that underscored and reflected my developing faith
It's a beautiful sound
Moving through the crowd.
Voices lifted up
On high for You.
It's a beautiful song.
We've only just begun to understand.
--Newsboys “Beautiful Sound”
Jul 20, 2007
"Minnesota Gothic" Our hosts for the weekend, Matt, Jenny, and Shiloh Berglund
The Berglund Residence
The Mississippi River
Super on the Patio. Friday evening, July 13, 2007
While the drive up to and back from Minneapolis was. . .character-building. . .for me, the weekend itself was wonderfully relaxing. Jenny and Matt were gracious hosts in spite of the fact that we were barging in for a visit only a few weeks after they'd moved in. They live in a charming little Tudor style home in a quiet, leafy neighborhood of small, beautifully kept homes, most between 70 and 80 years old. Inside, the house was nothing less than what I would expect from Jenny: Simple elegance, tasteful decor, rich wood floors and rustic tile, and lots of chic but homey touches. Being in their neighborhood, walking the tree-lined boulevards, resting in their quaint home, you could feel your heart rate slow, your breathing deepen, and your muscles relax.
At least until a jumbo jet screamed right over your head.
They live 10 minutes from Minneapolis's International Airport. Fortunately, we got used to the pretty regular roar of jets coming and going after awhile.
We arrived about 10:30 P.M. Thursday night, July 12.
On Friday we lolled about the house all morning before heading over to the Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota. Anyone who knows Barbara at all, knows she loves art and art musuems, and she always makes sure we visit whatever art museum(s) they have in ANY city we visit. The slide show below has a photo of one of the many fascinating displays at the Weisman.
We came back from our artistic excursion in the late afternoon and enjoyed a lovely dinner on the patio. In the slide show below, there's a bunch of photos of some of our other activites during the weekend including visiting Minnehaha Falls and Old Man River himself--the mighty Mississippi.
Berries. Fresh Berries! Oh, it was heaven. As all my Saipan readers know, fresh berries are rare in Saipan. When we do get them, they're often of dubious quality and exorbitant price. I had to take a picture of these beauties in my bowl before I gobbled them down. Plump, ripe rasberries, blueberries, and blackberries. Yes, that's right, I said blackberries. MMMMM!
At church on Sabbath we ran into one of our former teachers from Saipan, Rachel (Lombard) Capilitan. She had been at the earlier service and had just come back because she forgot her purse and we happened to bump into each other. Her husband Irwin was with her as well. It was nice to see them. Unfortunately, we didn't have our camera with us, so there's no photographic record of this meeting.
It was a pretty quiet weekend really. We didn't do much. But it was nice to be together as a family and I know I really treasured our time together. I think everyone did.
Matt and Jenny on Matt's bike. Sabbath afternoon, July 14 we drove around a bit. We went to Minnehaha Falls and the locks along the Upper Mississippi as you saw in the slide show, and also toured some of the neighborhoods and lakes in the area looking at some of the places the Berglund's almost lived in. I drove the Leens, Babs and Shiloh in the Corolla while Matt and Jenny wrote the motorcycle.
The Minneapolis/St. Paul area is a nice town. Lots of trees, a lot of nice older neighborhoods. There's a distinctly bohemian vibe about the place. I liked it a lot. On Sunday, July 15, we ate a great breakfast joint downtown called Hell's Kitchen. It was literally, a hell-themed restaurant complete with dark red walls, models of crows resting on dead branches, and Gary Larson "Far Side" cartoons about hell lining the walls. The wait staff all wore pajamas for some reason--I'm not sure what that had to do with hell, but it was interesting. The food most definitely did NOT taste like hell, though. Everything I had was delicious, and they made all their condiments from scratch--we're talking homemade peanut butter, jam, marmalade and even ketchup. I've never seen that before, but let me tell you, made-from-scratch is always a hundred times better.
After breakfast we headed out to Ikea where we shopped for several hours. Shopped out, Matt and I broke with the pack, and headed home for much needed laying around and doing nothing, while the others went on the Mall of America.
Monday morning, July 16, early, we said our goodbyes, loaded up our little Toyota and began the looooong journey home.
It was a wonderful weekend! Thanks to Matt and Jenny for hosting us, feeding us, and taking good care of us. Maybe we can do it again next summer!
Babs with Shiloh, Jenny's English Cocker Spaniel, getting her "dog fix."
Last Photos: Monday, July 16
Matt, Jenny, and the Leens.
The young couples: Matt & Jenny Berglund, Barbara and Sean Maycock
Jul 19, 2007
Freeway Sunset. Who says you have to live on a tropical island to have knockout sunsets? You can see these right off of I-94! Granted a sunset walk here wouldn't be quite so peaceful. . .
Last Thursday Barbaras parents, Barbara, and I drove from Dayton, Ohio to Minneapolis, Minnesota. We were going to visit Barbara's newlywed sister Jenny and her husband Matt in their new home.
It was a long drive, especially for someone who's gotten used to thinking of the 40 minute drive up to Marpi as a long-haul trip. It took us 13 and a half hours! We could have flown to Japan in less time! Suffice it to say, while I'm all about enjoying the journey, I bet I would have enjoyed the journey more if I were flying! Still, despite the sore bums and cramped legs we managed to have a pleasant trip, and indeed as you can see from these photos there was plenty of beauty to see along the way.
Approaching Chicago: A Skyline Series
Bab's takes it easy in the back seat.
Me at the wheel. I drove about 8 of the 13.5 hours there. I had my trusty ipod (you can see one of the earphones in the photo. I didn't wear them both for safety reasons) to help me while away the hours.
I'm sure I'm a very annoying driver to have on the road. I usually average about 75 to 80 mph on the freeway, but I absolutely refuse to hang on someone's bumper. I don't even like to gain on the driver ahead of me. I like lots of distance between me and the next car--I know my reflexes aren't quick enough to respond to a sudden stop in time if I'm ten feet behind the car in front of me. Most other drivers, however, seem to like stay much closer the car in front of them than I do. So, if I'm in the passing lane and both the car in front of me in my lane as well as the car ahead in the right are going about the same speed, I will hang back. Which means that all impatient folk behind me, will pull around and rush ahead a few yards. . . .so they can hang out right behind the bumper of the next vehicle. A lot of times it's not that I'm going any slower than anyone else in the fast lane. The guy behind me just wants to get those few yards ahead. Ridiculous.
Another sunset shot
"I feel like there's someone behind me. . .Someone very large. . .with a block of concrete cheese in his hand. . ."
These last two photos were actually taken on our return journey, at a gas station in Wisconsin. I had to get a photo of this classic example of kitcshy roadside Americana.
Jul 17, 2007
I expected that my thoughts on the spiritual guides in my life would be quite brief, but it turns out a I had a lot to say about these five individuals and one group. Which is fine. One of my "rules" for doing this series is that I won't limit myself in what I have to say. Readers should be fully aware that how much I write has no bearing on the relative "importance" of the individual in question. If I can say what I want to say in a few words, I will. When I need more words, I will use them as well. There has been no effort to ensure that all the people on my list get an "equal word count."
My faith is probably one of the most important aspects of my life--spiritual things are never far from my mind. And yet, ironically, I'm not a very "religious" person. I'm not the sort of person who is eager to pore over the Scriptures for hours, or is likely to lose track of time while in prayer (unless, of course, I fall asleep). For me, reading my Bible is still a duty, prayer a discipline, good works a chore, my faith not always as strong as I'd like. But fortunately for me, God keeps wooing me, sending me people like the ones you'll read about below. Through them He's softened my heart, encouraged my spirit, helped me hold on to Him and trust Him more. I'm still a work in progress, but these people have given me confidence that indeed, "He who has begun a good work in me will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ." (Philippians 1:6)
Heidi Bauer Starling
Clari & Darchelle Worley
Dr. Richard Ludders
The Missionaries of AFM (Adventist Frontier Missions)
Heidi Bauer Starling
For over a year, Heidi invited us to pray. We always declined. It wasn't that Barbara and I didn't like the idea: Gathering with some friends on Sunday evenings at Heidi's house for the sole purpose of praying together: How could that be a bad thing? And besides, as with all religious activities, I felt guilty if I expressed anything less than a desire to pray at any time and any place. So, of course we "wanted" to go, but there was always a reason we just couldn't seem to make it. Fortunately for us, Heidi never stopped inviting us (though we never felt pressured by her) and finally one Sunday evening we went. My spiritual life hasn't been the same since.
Prayer time with Heidi Bauer and friends was a like a shot of spiritual adrenaline. We always left her house feeling elevated, closer to God, a little bit more spiritually fired up than we had when we came. It's true that we didn't always feel "in the mood" for prayer and there were certainly evenings where it was difficult not to let my mind wander or succomb to rebellious temptations while we knelt together, each person praying aloud as they felt moved to do so. Still, our weekly prayer meetings remained a source of spiritual strength and grounding. Over the years the prayer group evolved and changed format. We rotated to different houses each week, experimented with different prayer styles and time lengths, and even started a phone prayer chain for awhile. After Heidi met and married her husband Eric Starling, we started emphasizing on specific one "prayer mission" for each member of the group that we focused our prayers on week after week. When Barbara and I moved to Saipan we took the prayer group idea with us and for many years, we'd meet every Sunday evening in Saipan with friends to pray. It's been a few years since we've had a regular prayer group, but the thanks to Heidi's influence, prayer as a spiritual discipline is still an engrained part of our lives. I still have prayer requests listed in my journal and Barbara and I find it easy to "stop and pray" for situations great or small in our lives.
Heidi taught me that prayer is like a lot of things that are good for you--flossing, eating healthily, exercising, listening rather than talking--you rarely feel like doing it, but when you're done you're glad you did. I haven't talked to Heidi and Eric in seven years, but I'm sure that, as their prayers and ours rise from our respective corners of the globe to mingle in the throne room of God, we are praying together still.
". . .but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God."
Carol is resolutely unwilling to bind herself to anything beyond Jesus, and that makes her remarkably open to learning from, and embracing the spiritual truth found in the many strands of Christian faith. I'm really amazed at Carol's ability to live in this open zone, willing to change,move or grow as the Spirit prompts. It inspires me and challenges me. I've never really talked to Carol about her spiritual journey--the fact that it is a journey for her, rather than a destination--but I'm guessing that the reason she feels safe on the spiritual edge is because her trust is anchored in the love and grace of Jesus Christ. Everytime I talk to Carol, I'm encouraged to trust in Him a little more and in my comfort zone a little less.
Nothing matters more than the character of God. It is the focal point of the battle between good and evil. It's trustworthiness must be proven. A correct understanding of it is vital. This is what Richard Ludder's believes. Dr. Ludders, known to me as the former director of the Saipan SDA Dental Clinic (he's retired a year and a half ago and has relocated, with his family to North Carolina) and one of my favorite Sabbath School debating partners, is a theologian at heart. So his belief in the nature of God's character as the most critical issue of faith is a theological one. He's not given to misty-eyed emotionalism or spiritual feel-goodism. He's pragmatic and a tad skeptical of grand religious proclimations of "what God told me" or "how the Spirit is leading." Richard believes that much of Christianity is pushing a picture of God at best is misleading and at worst is downright dangerous. A student of Adventist author and theologian Graham Maxwell, Richard doesn't believe in an angry God aching to blast the sinners, appeased only by His Son throwing himself in front of us and soothing Him with his bloody sacrifice. He believes in a God who desires our friendship, who wants us to truly know and understand Him, and for whom the cross is the ultimate demonstration of the love of, not just of the Son, but of the Father as well. The way I understand Richard's take on the cross, God didn't need Jesus to die for our sins, but we needed His death to understand the depth of His love.
More and more I find myself agreeing with Richard that God's character of love is the most important issue of my faith. As I grow older, I find my faith journey has not gotten any easier. If anything the way has gotten more steep, the path a little harder to see. My faith in a loving God is tested constantly, and I often find that, at times it is the only thing--that belief that God HAS to be good, that he has to be trustworthy, that He is far more patient, loving, and understanding than I can begin to imagine--that keeps me holding on. I wonder how strong my grip on that Truth, how strong my trust in His grip on me, would be if hadn't been for a golf-loving, unsentimental dentist with a passion for defending the character of his God.
The Missionaries of Adventist Frontier Missions (AFM)
Sometimes I feel like I'm not really a missionary. After all, I've got a Subway down the street, a Blockbuster around the corner, and a Costco seven minutes away! Plus pure white sand beaches, gorgeous sunsets, and a free car. I'm not serving in Saipan purely out of a noble sense of self-sacrifice for the cause of the Kingdom. To be honest I like living there! So you would think that every time I open up the pages of Frontiers I would be consumed with guilt and shame. But you would be wrong. Every time I read the articles penned by these missionaries, I'm inspired, uplifted, challenged. I realize they are rock stars only because they are solid in the Rock. I realize that what makes them heroes is their decision to let Jesus live in them, and I realize that what He does in and through them, He can do in and through me. Far from making me feel like less of a missionary, they make me feel like more of one, and challenge me to do what I do even better, with greater dedication, and deeper commitment to God and dependence on His strength.
Jul 13, 2007
1. Last Music Concert I went to: Singapore Symphony Orchestra in Singapore in March. It was an outdoor concert and featured a brilliant teenaged prodigy violinist. Before that, it was U2 in Japan last November.
2. Last Purchase: A "slim jim" stick of beef and one of beef with a stick of cheese, at this little gas mart on the drive to Minneapolis yesterday.
3. Last time I got pulled over: I think the last time was when I had a student in the "trunk" of the CRV and a police officer noticed. I didn't get a ticket though, I don't think. That was probably four years ago.
4. Last TV show watched: In it's entirety, "Big Brother 8 (USA)" on Tuesday.
5. Last drink: a glass of apple juice
6. Last song played on my ipod: "If You Were Mine" by Fernando Ortega
7. Last time I cried: Well, I cried in a dream last night when I dreamed that my sister's dog, a long-haired daschund, shot my dog with two plastic guns. I realize of course that is hilarious now that I'm awake. Before that? Probably while watching Monsoon Wedding about two weeks ago.
8. Last phone call received: From Babs Wednseday night when she was out doing last minute shopping before our road trip up here to Minneapolis and she was instructing me to do her laundry and look up mapquest directions.
Jul 11, 2007
The Happy Couple: Matt & Jennifer (Leen) Berglund
My sister in-law, Jennifer, married her boyfriend Matt Berglund on June 18, 2007 in Mexico. As often happens when the kids opt for the simple-just-the-two-of-us private ceremony, the family must have something. So we had a reception for Jenny and Matt this past Sunday, July 8. Jenny and Matt drove down on Sabbath from Minneapolis for the shin-dig on and on Sunday Jenny got into her wedding gown, Matt put on his suit and we celebrated!
Babs and Mom Leen (with the help of friends and church members at Centerville SDA Church) worked really hard to make the reception beautiful and elegant, and I think they did a great job. There were beautiful hydrangeas, gorgeous music from husband and wife piano/violin team Dave and Marlene Colburn, delicious food--ooh, the meatballs were the best--and even a chocolate fountain for dipping skewers of fruit.
I'm really glad to have Matt as part of the family now. Jenny is my favorite sister in-law (yes, she's also my only sister in-law but I know she'd be my favorite even if she had competition) and I'm so happy for her that she's found a great guy to share her life with. And of course it's great for me, that I now have a fellow brother-in-law in Matt, someone who shares the experience of being grafted into the Leen clan. I look forward to getting to know Matt better in the coming years.
Somehow when the six of us are together (actually, seven. I can't forget Jenny's "baby" Shiloh, the cocker spaniel.), it just feels like the family is complete.
The lucky guys (Me and Matt on the left) and the Leen Ladies we managed to latch on to.
The two sisters: Jenny & Babs
Matt and Jenny make the rounds during the reception, mingling with the guests. Friends Emily Cowl and Barbara Pervis and their crew did a fantastic job of decorating the Centerville SDA Church fellowship hall.
The Leen Ladies: Babs, Jenny, and their mom, Carol
The Saturday night before the wedding reception, Jenny unleashes her fearsome skill at Connect 4. She trounced her hapless husband something like 10 times--often playing with the black pieces, of which there were fewer than the red thus requiring her to win before she ran out of pieces. As Matt willed himself to win, they eventually resorted to playing with pens once the pieces ran out before Matt was finally able to beat her. She handily dispatched Babs--who is no slouch at Connect 4 herself--as well. I decided not to even get in the ring. Jenny mused in wonder at her own awesomeness: "Why is that no one can beat me?"
We'll be heading up to Minneapolis this weekend to spend some more time with Jenny and Matt in their new home! A blog, of course, will be forthcoming when we return.
Jul 6, 2007
Interestingly, this has proven to be one of the more difficult series of profiles to do--and I expect the others will be easier by comparison. Why was writing about my friends so challenging? There are a number of reasons--the biggest of which, is that friendships can be fragile things. A wrong choice of words or a misunderstanding of intent can throw a friendship into crisis. This is compounded by the fact that the influence of my friends, especially those from early in my life, was often found through the hard times--times when we fought, times when emotions boiled over and I hurt them or they hurt me. Trying to articulate how my friendships helped me grow emotionally has been vulnerable process for me and for those I count as friends. I've tried to be truthful in assessing my friend's influence without violating their privacy. I was discussing this project with one of the people on this list, worrying over how to say what I wanted to say, and this person told me, "Well, at least you're not writing a paragraph profile on every single person on the list. It's your blog. You can do whatever you want." This is true. And in that spirit, I have chosen to write a profile on each person saying what I have to say as honestly and tactfully as I can, and let the chips fall where they may.
One more caveat--my profiles say more about how I view my friends than how they actually are, and these profiles should not be assumed to be sum total of who each person is.
Also a brief word on the photos that go with each profile. Getting some of these photos was no easy task, as several people on the list I've lost contact with completely. I felt vaguely creepy nipping pictures off people's Myspace accounts and google image searches, and my apologies to anyone who shares that vaguely odd feeling about finding their photo appearing here. But hey, that is, after all, the nature of the internet. Where I could not find a photo, I had to make do with an image that I felt was at least somewhat representative, not necessarily of who that person is in their totality,but of how they have influenced me. The images I've chosen are not always ideal, but they were the best I could do.
The friends that have had a formative influence on my life are a diverse group. Their are eight men and six women. Some, like Judith and Elliot I knew for a season in my life and have since lost touch with. Some are high school friends that I've drifted apart from as time and distance have taken their toll. Three--Aaron, Joyce, and Grant--I met since I've lived in Saipan. And a very few have remained close and constant friends over the years since I met them. As I wrote, I found myself referencing the life lessons I learned from each individual on this list, and that means, whether near or far, their influence still resounds in my life today.
Paul Wood & Christi Snell
Carissa Berard Cotta
Aaron & Joyce Knowlton
Paul Wood & Christi Snell
They were probably the best friends I ever had in elementary school and I didn't even know it. Only in hindsight was I able to see that Paul and Christi were loyal, faithful friends at a time when I didn't have many. I'm afraid I wasn't near as a good friend to them as they were to me. I believe I took both of them for granted, though in very different ways. With Christi, I guess I was blinded by love. Christi was my first big crush, and I was madly infatuated with her. To my seventh-grade mind, she was simply the hottest thing on the planet. So consumed was I with my attraction for her, that I think I missed her simple acceptance of me, her trustworthy and open-hearted friendship. I didn't realized until years later, after the crush had long since faded and our freindship had drifted apart how lucky I was to have had her in my life. In Paul's case, it was familiarity that bred a careless contempt and blurred my vision. I've known Paul longer than just about anybody outside of my family. We rode to school together for years, his parents and my mom were great friends--Paul was always around, almost like family. And like I treated my family at that age, I often scorned his company in favor of chasing after "cool kids" who cared about me far less than he did. Only later, perhaps too much later, did I realize how foolish I'd been. Paul was a friend that made my difficult years of elementary school that little bit easier, and could have done so even more, if I'd let him. Though, I was uaware of Paul and Christi's influence then, at least I can be grateful for it now.
“There’s only one thing that really matters in this life,” J said, little knowing that his casual insight would change the course of my life. “It’s to know God and to get to heaven.” Original idea? Not hardly. But for some reason, it was exactly what I needed to hear. It was the summer of 1992, I was 18 years old and felt like I didn’t have a reason to live through the end of the year. I was on the phone with J bemoaning the hopelessness of my life. I suppose J could have reprimanded me for my self-centered whining, or he could have just feigned sympathy while checking his watch—this was some pretty long-winded existential angst after all. But that wasn’t J’s style; I don’t think he knows how to be anything other than thoughtful and genuine. That conversation and those wise words of J marked a turnaround in my life, the beginning of a sense of hope and purpose in this life--as well as in the life to come--that stays with me to this day.
J’s been my best friend for almost 20 years. We met in Earth Science class during our freshman year in high school. We stayed in touch during college, went on road trips, went to Chuuk together as student missionaries, toured Europe together. For many years he lived only an island or two away from me in Micronesia and now that he & his wife Evelyn have relocated back to the United States he lives just two hours away from my in-laws in Ohio.
For just about all of those years I’ve always listened when J spoke. He always seemed to have this wisdom well beyond his years and he has a knack for always telling me exactly what I need to hear. I know I can always count on him to tell me the truth. He’s helped me see the light with various romantic entanglements, spiritual issues, and even my nascent writing career. The great thing about J is that he conveys hard truth in a way that is encouraging, kind, and hopeful. After talking to J I not only feel like I see things more clearly, but I feel better too.
Chris always preferred to stand. Our little high school clique would be hanging out at Geri's house, sitting around basking in our silly sense of coolness, and there would be Chris. Standing. Leaning against the entryway to the living room as if he might make his getaway at any moment. We'd urge him to sit, like the rest of us. His insistence on standing was making us nervous. But Chris didn't care to be like the rest of us. And because Chris couldn't be bothered with kowtowing to what other people thought, he refused to be pigeon-holed. Here was a gun-toting cowboy of a guy usually dressed in a white t-shirt, blue jeans, and a scowl. . .who was also a gifted writer, avid reader, and armchair philosopher. He was a weight-lifting, athletic. . .anti-jock. He was quite popular, a guy with a free pass to the cool kids club. . .who preferred to be alone. He was a hunter and fisherman who liked nothing better than to work with his hands. . .but was also the top student in his class, voted most likely to succeed. And succeed, he did. Though not on "their" terms. He could have been a surgeon, an attorney, a CEO but instead of doing what others thought he ought to do, Chris did what he knew he should do, what he would be happy doing. For someone like me, who in those days often cared too much what other people thought, who was often too eager to make peace even at the cost of my own self-respect, Chris Cotta was a bracing corrective. He was always pushing me to march to the beat of my own drum, or not, heck, not march at all!
“Friends Forever.” We carved those words into two simple sticks of wood. We were high school sophomores when Chandra and I made those vows of friendship. She kept one stick and I kept the other. In the years to come, the keeping of those vows was the challenge. We charted a stormy course—filled with euphoric highs and devastating lows. During my freshman year of college, as I was adjusting to a new life miles away from anyone or anything familiar, her letters, full of affection and care, kept me going. When we had our “last fight” in the spring of 1994, I went through an agonizing time of change and growth that ultimately made me a stronger, more confident person. Chandra is responsible for some of the proudest moments in my life. It wasn’t always fun or easy but Chandra helped me become the person I am today. That stick she gave me all those years ago is kind of like our friendship now. It's been put away for a long time now, but I know this: I still have it.
Carissa Berard Cotta
When you were with her, you felt like anything could happen, as if you were in a movie. She was smart, independent, just that tiny bit dangerous and just that little bit dark, the one that would travel the world with you seeking adventure. Carissa was the girl flouting tradition and the order of things to follow her heart. Well, today the girl that gave Lara Croft a run for her money has become a successful career woman, mother, and wife. Of course she does all that in the wilds of Alaska, so there you go. From Carissa I developed a taste for the romance of travel and adventure that stays with me to this day. Carissa’s influence also lingers on in my writing. When I want to create a compelling, appealing, and exciting character, I draw from what I remember of Carissa--smart, independent, just that tiny bit dangerous and just that little bit dark.
In a world full of people, only some want to fly,
Isn't that crazy?
---from “Crazy” by Seal
For probably the first time in my life, I was surrounded by black people. I was a freshman at Andrews University. I didn't know anyone, but my roommate was African-American, and all the people I met through him were too. I found myself in new and unfamiliar waters and I wasn't quite sure how to navigate. To look at me, you'd think I'd fit right in, after all I'm black too, right? But I only had to begin to speak, and it was obvious I was out of my element. "Why do you talk like that? Why are you trying to be white?" people would ask me. It was hard to explain that I wasn't trying to be anything. This was just the way I talked. Coming from a mixed race background where even my blood relatives represent the colors of the rainbow, I guess I never truly felt in my element except in the family circle. I didn't truly "belong" among my white friends in high school. And now it appeared, I didn't fully belong among the people who were purportedly "my own." And then Elliot Jeremiah came along. He lived down the hall from me and was friends with my roommate. He was a charismatic campus leader, president of the BSCF (Black Student Christian Forum) and leader of his own a cappella group, Called. Eventually we became friends. Though during my first year of college many of my friends were black, Elliot was the friend who helped me feel at home. He didn't judge me for my "white" accent or my love of Van Halen, U2, and Michael W. Smith (though he did help me understand that Smith was not Gospel. Gospel was groups like New Jersey Mass Choir, Richard Smallwood, Kirk Franklin, Commissioned--artists I came to appreciate through Elliot). While certainly more "culturally" African American than I was, Elliot didn't feel the need to fit into stereotypical molds, and he helped me understand that I didn't need to either. Over the years, as we worked together at the LOFT in inner city Benton Harbor, took a road trip to Texas, attended each other's weddings (Called sang at mine), and had our every three-week barbershop appointments (Elliot was a master barber that kept my "fade" looking good all through college), Elliot helped me learn among the black community, what I had already learned among the white. That people are just people, and there was nothing wrong with being black like me.
In the fall of 1995, just a few weeks before I would meet the woman who would become my wife, I drove out to Chicago to visit my friend Kim. I hadn’t seen her in more than a year and I wondered what the weekend might hold. We’d been through all kinds of ups and downs—relationship challenges the like of which I’d never been through until I met her. She was the first woman I’d ever really, truly fought with. She was also the first woman I’d felt dangerously drawn to—when I was with her I felt like I was playing with fire—exhilarating, addicting, with the very real possibility of getting burned. She was three years older than me, and I learned quickly after we met in the fall of my freshman year that being a boy wouldn’t do with Kim. I would have to be a man. So on that clear fall day, after all the craziness we’d been through, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It turned out to be one of the nicest weekends of my life. Rather than exhilarating and addicting, it was quiet and warm—I was no longer playing with fire, I was sitting contentedly next to one. All the adrenaline had drained away, but in it’s place was the comfort of solid friendship. We talked for hours, ate at great little places in her Irving Park neighborhood, and walked. We walked for hours, hand in hand, all over Chicago it seemed, in the brisk autumn air, enjoying the simple pleasure of each other’s company. There were no demands, no longings, no frustrations. When I drove away at the end of the weekend, I somehow knew we’d always be friends. You could say Kim taught me the ropes. In our ups and downs, I learned much of love, life, and relationships in the grown-up world.
I only knew Judith for a short period of time. For less than a year we shared a few classes and worked together in the Behavioral Sciences Department at Andrews University. Then I went off to be a student missionary in Micronesia and she moved to California. I only saw her once after that--almost nine years ago, when Barbara and I had lunch with Judith and her husband in California when we were on our way to our new home in Saipan. But in the short time that we knew each other, she had remarkable influence on my life. From Judith, I gained a template for what a fun, real, and comfortable relationship should be like. With Judith, there were no games, no pretensions, no awkwardness. And the funny thing is, Judith was the type of person I would ordinarily have found very intimidating: she was model-beautiful, with a brilliant mind and a very hip coterie of friends. Yet, whether we were goofing around at work, wandering Chicago's art gallery district for our Art History class, or making eggplant parmigiana with cream puffs for dessert on a long winter Sabbath afternoon, I always felt totally at ease with being myself around Judith. Though, our friendship was always strictly platonic, after knowing Judith for that brief time, I knew that any romantic relationship I entered into would have to have that same relaxed, natuaral quality. A memory: We're in a little Spanish restaurant in Chicago. Judith orders an espresso. Suavely, I order one too--and make that a double. I'm lean back smug in my behomeian, coffee-drinking coolness. They bring our order, and I wonder outloud to Judith:
"Man, I ordered a double, and look at this tiny little cup they brought me."
"Don't you know what an espresso is? It's very concentrated, strong coffee. You wouldn't want it any bigger than that. You did know that, didn't you?"
"Don't open this envelope until I'm gone," he said in his inimitable deep and solemn voice. Right then I knew Big Will was up to his old tricks. Without even knowing what was inside, I wanted to say "No, Willie, you don't have to do this. Really." But I knew Willie well enough to know that "No" wouldn't make a dent with him. So I agreed. And when he was gone, Barbara and I opened the envelope and found $700. Seven. Hundred. Dollars. Why? Perhaps he thought we needed the money. Maybe it was a late wedding gift (he'd been a groomsman in our wedding a few months earlier). But most likely there was no reason--there didn't need to be with Willie--he was just being outrageously generous. That's how Willie was, that's how Willie had always been.
I'm ashamed to admitt that when I first met Willie Hawthorne (or Big Will as I called him--he was quite tall, and built like granite) I didn't like him very much. I thought he was weird. It took me awhile to figure out that Willie's unorthodox nature was a thing of great value. God broke the mold when he made Big Will, and in gaining him as a friend, I learned that broken molds are a good thing. Big Will was an extremely deep thinker--so deep I sometimes couldn't follow him. He could also be off-the-wall goofy (though I learned there was often wisdom even in his foolishness). He was fanatically generous (as you've seen), insanely kind, over-the-top spiritual, absurdly humble. From Big Will I learned that a colorful character makes for a brighter life, and often, a rich friendship. I haven't seen Will since that day he handed me that envelope, but I'm sure that wherever he is he is shining the light of God's love--in kaleidescopic hues. "Speak of the Potter, not of the clay" Big Will told me, when I informed I was writing about him in my weekly column in my college newspaper. I write today what I ended my column with then: "A well-formed vessel speaks much of it's Potter."
Joyce & Aaron Knowlton
They probably don't know this, but such was the impact on our lives, that Barbara and I actually coined a word based on Aaron & Joyce Knowlton. "Knowltonesque." What does it mean to be Knowltonesque? Well, it helps to beautiful, inside and out. Aaron and Joyce are. A Knowltonesque teacher loves their students and wins the hearts of the kids, not by trying to be cool but by being cool. And I might add a Knowltonesque teacher never lets being cool get in the way of being an excellent educator. Aaron and Joyce were those kinds of teachers when they taught at the Saipan SDA School for two years from 2000 to 2002. Knowltonesque people are always fun to be around and they always make you feel appreciated. Aaron and Joyce, the only other married couple on the staff at that time, always made Babs and I feel that way. Knowltonesque people leave a legend and legacy behind. Even though they've been gone for five years now, the Knowlton mystique still lingers. Even those who never knew them personally, have heard of them. Since we've had the pleasure of working with Aaron and Joyce, I'm always excited when I meet new teachers that have that Knowltonesque quality about them--and we've blessed with quite a few of them. A new teacher arriving in Saipan might wonder? Do I have these magical "Knowltonesque" qualities? Well, here's what I learned from Aaron and Joyce. If you are devoted to God, to your students, your fellow staff members, and your mission, then you are"Knowltonesque" because after all, being Knowltonesque is not something you can try to do--it can only come from being your best self.
A lot has been said about my friendship with Grant Graves in his blog and in mine. Regular readers know how different we are. You know what a great friensdship we developed over the year and you've heard tales of our adventures together from the mundane (pie-making) to the exciting (lost in the jungles of Saipan!). You know what a charismatic speaker, writer and teacher he is. I'd like to highlight here how Grant has influenced me in those arenas. Grant has strengthened my belief in the importance of the opposing point of view. I've always believed differences were important, but with Grant I actually came to appreciate hearing from some one who disagreed with me. Grant helped me learn to see things from a different perspective without adopting that point of view and I feel like that's made me a wiser, more understanding person. Grant has also sharpened my writing and speaking skills. I've always believed in brevity, but Grant Graves is the King of Brief and he's done much to help me understand the value of the well-chosen word. Even the "blog-with-a-lesson and a punchy phrase at the beginning and end" format, I picked up from him. Finally, Grant helped me rediscover the value of friendship. I'd gotten to the place where I was pretty comfortable with my little circle in Saipan--I'd almost begun to believe I didn't really need any friends beyond the faithful few. But then a Grant came along and reminded me that a good friendship is always worthwhile and should always be highly valued.