Aug 25, 2007

My Personal Influences: Teachers & Mentors

As I begin my tenth year as a professional educator, it seems like the appropriate time to reflect on the teachers and mentors who have made an impact in my life. Teaching is often a thankless job and so I suppose this is my small effort to rectify that injustice.

They say that we stand on the shoulders of giants and this amazing group of men and women were--and are--giants to me. Just about everyone on this list was someone that could have , and perhaps for a time did, intimidate me. But the remarkable thing is that all of these mentors made me feel safe enough to risk learning, all inspired confidence in me, and all graciously allowed me to stand on their shoulders.

My list includes two high school teachers, two college professors, one mentor in my creative endeavors, and a couple that have taught me a great deal about marriage.

The names:

Dan Shor
Dr. Øystein LaBianca

Dr. Edwin Hernandez
Paul Viar
Wanda Hopkins
Rex & Clarie Kosack

Dan Shor
A great teacher encourages.

I would never have guessed that Billy the Kid would be one of my great mentors. There I sat in the movie theater sometime in the early 90's, watching the highly popular and much imitated teen comedy Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. And there, cavorting across the screen in a long coat and cowboy hat, twirling his six shooters and drawling sardonically was Billy the Kid. His real name was Dan Shor, he was a Hollywood actor, and one day, though neither of us could have guessed it, we would be friends.

Fast forward a dozen or so years.

I walk into Luminarias, a remarkable Mexican restuarant in the foothills of the San Gabriel mountains outside of Los Angeles, and shake hands with Billy the Kid. He looks a little older--only a little though--and he seems to have lost the deep Western accent I remember, but he still has curly blond hair and that twinkle in his eye. We sit down and do lunch. I'm a Seventh-day Adventist missionary teacher with a crazy dream--I want to make a TV series. He's an accomplished actor, writer, and director who's done it all on stage, in television, and on the big screen. He's seen Hollywood glamour come and go, and he's willing to help. I'll be honest,at first I was more than a little intimidated, and Dan could easily have milked that starry-eyed awe for some easy ego-stroking. But he didn't. That's not how Dan is. He is down-to-earth, kind, unpretentious and most of all encouraging. At the end of lunch, I left him a copy of our pilot that had aired the previous fall in Saipan--and I'm sure he knew, once he saw it, how awful it was. But when I talked to him a few days later, he only had words of hope and encouragement. He made me believe, that it wasn't completely ludicrous for a novice director who couldn't tell a grip from a gaffer to create something of value.

Dan moved to Saipan a few months later and he become my mentor and friend. From Dan I learned much about acting, filmmaking, and writing. We worked together on the Journeys project until the money ran out. I helped out on a documentary he directed on the Battle of Saipan. And most recently I acted in pilot project of his, State of Liberty. I often felt stupid around Dan--he knew so much more than I did--but it was my own insecurity that made me feel that way, never his treatment of me. Dan was unfailing encouraging, always supportive, consistently made me believe I really could do it--I, too, could write, direct, and act.

The opportunities on Saipan finally dried up and Dan and his wife, Jie Hua (who he met here), packed up and moved back to the Mainland. I miss them both, but I'm sure one of these days we'll work together again. Who knows, maybe one day I'll walk into a theater somewhere, look at up the silver screen, and we'll both be there--our names rolling by in the credits. Me and Billy the Kid.

Øystein LaBianca
A great teacher changes the way you think

Dr. LaBianca is a Renaissance Man. He's an archealogist, anthropologist, a university professor. He's as comfortable among the ancient ruins of Machu Pichu or Tell Hesban as he is cradling a bass violin on the stage of the Howard Performing Arts Center as he is walking the ivory tower halls of academia spearheading some new campus initiative. The man is--and has long been--my inspiriation.

My first encounter with Dr. LaBianca was when I was a student in his Cultural Anthropology class in the spring of 1994. That class probably had the greatest single impact of any class I have ever taken before or since. It completely changed the way I looked at the world. As Dr. LaBianca opened up to us the fascinting worlds of the Hutterites in North America and the Yanomamis of the Amazon, my view of people, culture and life iself, expanded and changed forever. I would be lucky enough to work for and with Dr. LaBianca as a research assistant later in my college career and also right after I finished my degree. I found him to be a gracious, generous, humble, and deeply spiritual man. I guess I'd always thought that to be an academic heavyweight you had to be a bit of a snob, and certainly too smart for simple things like faith. Dr. LaBianca succeeded in changing my thinking again. I haven't seen Dr. LaBianca in years--but I'm sure he's out there changing the lives of a new generation of college kids. I know one day our paths will cross again, and we'll sit down and have a great chat. I know we'll talk about something great and deep and important, and I know that I'll leave that conversation thinking a little differently, seeing just a bit more of the world than I saw before.

Edwin Hernandez
A great teacher believes in you.

Everyone needs a teacher who believes in them. And by that I don't mean that general "I believe all kids have potential"--though that is vital too. I mean a teacher who believes in that one specific student. A teacher who can look a kid in the eye and I say in complete sincerity and utter belief: "I know you can do it." Dr. Hernandez was that teacher for me. I worked for "Ed" as he was affectionately known for five years as a research assistant at Andrews University. At that time Dr. Hernandez was a professor of sociology in the Behavioral Sciences Department (hands down, the best place I ever worked, by the way). My job was to assist with his various research projects, the largest of which was a massive long range study of the attitudes, views, behaviors, and mores of Latino Christians. I did everything from data entry to research work to co-authoring with Dr. Hernandez on that project. During those years working together, Dr. Hernandez always made it clear that he believed I could do great things. He dreamed of me making my name in the rarified air of academia. He envisioned me earning a PhD and publishing some groundbreaking research in the social sciences. He believed I had talent, that I had a gift, that I could make a difference. You can't imagine what that means to a college undergrad trying to find his way in the world. Even though I chose not to pursue a career in research, the fact that Ed believed I could meant the world to me.

I have a feeling Dr. Hernandez was a little disappointed when I decided to go into elementary education instead of academia. I hope he knows why I made that decision though. I just wanted to do for kids what he did for me.

Paul Viar
A great teacher has high standards and high expectations.

He was a legend. His 7:30 A.M. sophomore Biology class was known to strike fear into the hearts of even the sharpest student. He taught the class like it was college (and it wasn't even AP!). His tests put the SAT to shame (and they were that important). Late work was as good as no work (and for Viar, work was late when he reached the door of his office at the back of the room after having passed through the rows picking up the assignments. I distinctly remember racing to the back of the room and blocking the door to his office so I could give him my work before it was late and worthless). Mr. Viar was tough. He had high standards. High expectations. He was no nonsense. He didn't play around. You either figured that out quickly or you ended up with a D- (as I did at the end of the first semester of biology after a school career of mostly easy A's ). By senior year Anatomoy & Physiology, Mr. Viar would ease off a little a bit, but by then his standards of performance were habit for his students. In my freshman year in college, when I was breezing through college A & P while the rest of the my classmates were floundering, I wrote a letter of thanks to Mr. Viar for insisting I build the study habits, work ethic, and knowledge base that enabled me to succeed. Even then I couldn't have known how his influence would continue to extend over my life.

You see, I became a teacher as well, and Mr. Viar became my model for what it is to be a good teacher. From my first teaching gig as a student missionary in Chuuk until now, more than a dozen years later, I have always asked myself: "What would Mr. Viar do?" These days I've managed to develop a repuation of my own as a teacher who means business. I think I owe Mr. Viar another letter!

Wanda Hopkins
A great teacher loves.

To listen to Mrs. Hopkins read Edgar Allan Poe's "The Bells", was to be transported. This gentle, happy teacher would transform. At first she was quiet, lyrical, lulling. But her delivery would subtly shift darker, deeper, and she'd creep up on you, her voice rising wild and passionate with the poem, until she was verbally grabbing you by the lapels and making you hear the tolling of the bells, bells, bells, bells, BELLS!!!

And then the poem would be over, and she'd smile her familiar smile and say something along the lines of "Now wasn't that nice."

Mrs. Hopkins is my other model for the kind of teacher I want to be. All that was true of Viar was true for her as well, but different things stand out about her in my memory.

In high school, Mrs. Hopkins was famous for her little catchphrases, but the funny thing is right now, I can't think of a single one. What makes her memorable to me wasn't those funny little one-liners. It was her love. Mrs. Hopkins inspired me by her love for English and her love for each of us. You didn't feel like Mrs. Hopkins loved you more than the others. You felt that Mrs. Hopkins loved us all the same. I try to teach like Mrs Hopkins--with love. Love for my subjects, and most of all, love for my kids. And when I read "The Bells", I do my best Hopkins imitation and hope my passion comes across to my students the ways hers did to me.

Rex & Clarie Kosack
Great teachers set a great example.

There's not too many people out there with whom you can discuss your marriage. For most people, marriage--at least the public version of it--is a show. You may be fighting tooth & nail in the car on the way to church, but when you get out of the car, you paste on your smiles and if anybody asks, things are always "great." What happens behind closed doors, nobody knows. But wouldn't it be great if there were marriage mentors--people who would be willing to open those closed doors at least halfway and let you get a glimpse of the nuts and bolts of a working marriage? Wouldn't it be great if you could open your own doors a little bit and show your own work-in-progress, and gain a few insights from those a little older and a lot wiser?

Well, Barbara and I were lucky to find just that in the Marriage Encounter community in general, and in the friendship of Rex and Clarie Kosack in particular. After attending our Marriage Encounter Weekend in the fall of 2003, we went through a series of evening meetings with Kosacks and several other couples called "Steps Along the Journey" where we learned more about the principles of successful marriage. We did "Steps" and the second series "Steeper Steps" twice with the Kosacks, the second time co-faciliating with them so that we could eventually lead our own group. Rex and Clarie were both remarkably candid and courageous in opening up and sharing how they make their marriage work. These are brilliant, beautiful, charismatic people who are very accomplished in their professional and personal lives. They would be intimdating, ordinarily, the sort of people you'd feel you needed to impress, except that they are so genuinely kind, so disarmingly honest about their own weaknesses, so deeply interested in you, and so humble in their brilliance that you can't help but feel safe and at ease with them.

Rex and Clarie have had the courage to be role models, to set an example for other couples. They've been willing to pull away the veil we all wear and share their struggles and successes so we could learn from them. As we led our own "Steps" group, Rex and Clarie were in our thoughts and hearts. They always are.


This month Babs and I have inherited "Rusty", the old blue pick-up truck that Grant drove last year. This truck--nearly 20 years old with a wiring system beyond repair and full all kinds of crotchety old-vehicle quirks--has been in Saipan much longer than Barbara and I have. We've seen it pass through many owners in our time here, and it's funny how the truck was always so strongly identified with whoever happened to own it at the time. You'd see it cruising into the compound in 1998 and you'd think, "Oh, here come's Jeanie Drake." You'd see it parked in front of the school in 1999 and think, "Lois DeWitt must be in her classroom." In 2000 it was the Knowltons. And then Mai Yang, Yeneer Merino, & Jill Sharpe (we always used to start singing "We are Family" everytime we saw them cruise by, the three of them jammed into the cab). There was Florian, and last year Grant Graves, who gave Rusty it's name.

And now, this year, at least for a little while, it's me and Babs. We're driving it while Larene is still here (she shares the Honda CRV--our usual ride--with Virle and Joiey).

Despite the lack of air conditioning and space for all our junk, I kinda like driving Rusty. Rusty's a stick-shift so there's that added sense of control when you drive, and Rusty get's the best gas mileage of any of the school vehicles. We went more than two weeks on a single tank, including a drive or two out to the Mandi and several trips to Capital Hill! And check out the snappy new seats:

We hand the truck over to Virle in about a week and a half, when Larene returns to the Philippines. In the meantime, I'm enjoying roaming the streets of Saipan in this beat-up little missionary pick-up we affectionately call Rusty.

Aug 24, 2007

Back in the Saddle Again

My Homeroom Class: Grades 8-10

School has begun, and I'm back in the saddle again. This is probably the best start I've had to a year so far. I'm staying on top of my work, managing to stay relatively balanced in terms of work, leisure, spiritual life, marriage etc, and I love my students! In my homeroom I have six freshmen and sophomores and seven eighth graders. In my 5/6 History and Language Arts classes I have a total of 16 students--a much larger class than anticipated. I'm especially enjoying teaching my 7/8 American History class. They are--and always have been--such enthusaistic learners. I've never enjoyed lecturing as much as I do with them. They never seem bored and I try not to be boring. Just this past week we had a long discussion on the Salem witch trials and a laugh-filled lecture on the finer points of "no taxation without representation." It's actually fun!

My classroom, the day before school started. August 12, 2007

The Clipboard of Power: My students often say that my clipboard is my "life" and it pretty much is. I have it with me at all times and virtually everything I need to know and need to do can be found on it's pages. It's a pretty simple set-up: a pad of paper that is replaced each quarter, and a pen clipped to the top.

Some of my 8-10 girls

"M." I've known this guy and his twin brother since they were in kindergarten. What a privilege to be his teacher in his 8th grade year. An amazing young man.

Babs in full-principal mode. This video is especially for Barbara's family, who I think, will enjoy a little snippet of their daughter laying down the law as principal of her school on the first day of classes.

Aug 18, 2007

New Years Resolutions

Jumping into a new year! (That's me and Jessica, our Bible/ESL teacher)

For me, my new year really begins in August. My birthday is on the 3rd and a new school year begins a few weeks in to the month. Now that I'm back home, at the start of this new year for me, there are couple of changes I want to make. So, my list of new year's resolutions, and my progress so far (I originally posted this list in my Interference online journal when I was still in Hawaii):

1. I want to be less busy this year. Without realizing it at first, I got healthy this summer. I would wake up feeling truly rested (and this even though I was going to bed late and getting up late). My skin finally began to clear up (this past spring I started getting breakouts on my forehead. I've never ever had skin issues before and I truly believe it was stress related). I felt WELL and it wasn't until I started thinking about going back to work that I realized how much of the time last school year I felt vaguely sick. I realize now that despite some improvements--more regular sleep hours and a more positive outlook--I was still way, way too busy and too stressed out last year. I'm going to say no to more "extra" activities, I'm going to pace myself better. I absolutely REFUSE to do private tutoring this year. No amount of money is worth it.

Progress So Far: The first week back did not bode well. I plunged right into a crazy, hectic, harried schedule and felt awful. I was actually a little depressed, to be honest. I couldn't believe I was right back in my old habits. . .it was as if summer vacation hadn't even happened. Of course the week before school starts is supposed to be nuts, but I was finding that after ten years in the "mission field" I didn't have the resiliency I once had. However, this past week, our first week of school, turned out fantastic. The crazy work the week before paid off, and I was able to have a nice relaxing Sunday which was vital to begining the workweek well. I felt like I had a good handle on my schedule and a nice balance to my life. Even with a sudden last minute decision to go to an all day workshop on Thursday and Friday (and tomorrow) on the U.S. Constitution didn't phase me too much. My goal is to continue this good, reasonable pace for the rest of the year.

2. I will continue to trying to avoid making decisions that aren't mine to make and worrying about things I can't control. I tend to want to take on a lot of the Barbara's administrative worries since I'm privy to all the school issues that come up (financial etc) and it's not healthy for either of us if I start making her job issues my job issues.

Progress So Far: So far, so good.

3. I want to be more active this year. Saipan is such a beautiful island and I miss so much of it with my largely inactive lifestyle. I want to hike, bike, swim, snorkel, and even dive this year. I will go to the beach more.

Progress So Far: I'm proud to say that I've already begun to keep this resolution. This past Wednesday, I did my first ever "tank swim." The "tank swim" was something last year's teacher's used to do all the time, swimming out to a World War II-era tank that didn't quite make it to shore during the American invasion of Saipan in 1944. Now the tank is rusted over and swarming with tropical fish. To tell the truth, you could just do a "tank walk"--the water is shallow enough, but what fun would that be? So we swim. It felt really good, the water rushing over me, the late afternoon sun glinting on the surface, and when I got to the tank, breathing hard, muscles burning, and climbed up on it's massive, rusty surface, and looked back I was rewarded with a fresh new view of my island home. I wish I had more pictures but none of us had a waterproof camera, so the shot below, taken with Mai's camera was on the beach after we swam back. If you look carefully you can see the tank in the water behind us. It's the small dark shape to the right of the two ready ships in the background.

Mai, Vero, Me, and Jessica after Mai led us in our inauguaral tank swim. The Piersons were there also, though they continued out to the second tank, and Amy, Eva, and Riki hit the water just as we got out.

I'm looking forward to many more tank swims (there's actually a second tank even further out that we'll swim to next time) and lots more physical activity this year!

4. I will go to bed and get up at the same time, six days a week.

Progress So Far: In bed by 9:30 or so for some reading and lights out between 10 and 10:15 every night this past week except last night (Friday night). It's made a HUGE difference, I think. And an added bonus is I've been waking up earlier too, usually between 5:30 and 5:45 A.M. The first two nights, when I woke up at that time feeling rested and ready to get up, I would make myself go back to sleep till 6 because it was "too early" but I found I ended up sleeping too late then and re-awoke feeling groggy and exhausted, as if I'd begun a new sleep cycle and was paying the price for interrupting it.

5. I will start saving money and spend less.

Progress So Far: Hmmm. . .well, September is when that's really going to start. . .

6. I will spray the house for roaches on a regular basis. The occasional cockroach skittering across the floor has been bothering me less lately, and THAT bothers me!

Progress So Far: Afraid I haven't done this yet. The roaches have a reprieve. For now. But their time is coming, oh, it's coming. And when it comes there will be destruction, and great shall be my wrath, and great shall be the weeping and gnashing of teeth and the beating of nasty roach wings in the cockroach community when I descend upon them.

Aug 17, 2007

The New Team

First Photo in Hawaii: (From L to R), Eva Abelado our 1/2 Teacher from Spain; Jessica Lee our Bible, P.E., and ESL teacher from California; Veronica Perez our Kindergarten teacher from Miami, Florida by way of Southern Adventist University; Amy Foote, our preschool director from Washington state: and Riki Untersherer, our preschool teacher from California by way of Walla Walla College.

In Saipan, on the island tour last Sabbath, August 11, 2007

Well, I feel like this is a little late. All the "other" blogs. . .Mai, Bev, the Pierson's etc have already covered this ground, so this entry seems a bit redundant. But, what can I say, I too want to welcome the new team to Saipan!

They've been here for just over two weeks now and they are settling into their new home on Saipan and adjusting to the rigors of their new jobs. These young women are serious but fun, hard workers with kind and gentle souls. The works seems a bit daunting, almost overwhelming at first, but they press on gamely anyway, determined to give their best. I have a feeling we are in for another amazing year.

First Friday night, August 3, 2007 (my birthday!): Riki, Eva, Amy, and Mai at our house for dinner and worship together.

Roommates Jessica and Veronica: They both live in the "Girl's Apartment" where Brit and the gang lived last year. Mai still has her space in the loft and these two have the big bedroom to themselves. Jessica and I work closely since we share teaching responsiblities in the upper grades. She's way cool and we've had lots of fun trading music and talking. Veronica, I am also working closely with as she and Mai are both co-directors with me for REAL Christian Theater. Veronica is full of positive energy and beaming with love for the Lord.

"Batwoman" (seated) & "Robyn": My nicknames for the Dynamic Duo that keep this ship afloat, Babs, the principal, and her right-hand woman, the amazing, the unstoppable, the multi-facted,multi-talented, Virleshay!

Mai and Kimo: I feel a special bond with Mai this year. It's funny because, though we went to the gym with Graves a couple times a week and generally hung out a lot, it's only this year that I feel like our friendship has taken on an added depth. Last year she (and I) had the others--Grant, Brit, Layla, Missy. They were off adventuring, doing the tank swim, playing volleyball and so on, and I cheered them on from the sidelines. Also, both Mai and I were particularly close to Grant, though generally those friendships were largely seperate. She hung out with Grant. I hung out with Grant. But beyond the gym we rarely hung out just the three of us together (though I do remember one Saturday night when the two of them hung out with Babs and I at our house). Now Grant is gone and we both miss him. Now Mai and I share memories of our friends that have moved on, and together welcome the new team members. We relate to each other because of those shared memories and experiences. I'm really glad she's here with us again this year!

The Pre-School Veterans: Kathleen, Shirley, & Janelle. These women are the backbone of the preschool!

First Sabbath: The new teachers introduce themselves at church on Sabbath, August 4 as Babs looks on.

Rosana, we barely knew ye! Rosana, what a woman! She came when everyone else was leaving, left when everyone else was arriving and yet managed to have a blast and even develop a reputation as a teacher who meant business and made summer school run like a well-oiled machine. I really didn't get to know Rosana well, but I'm grateful for all that she gave to our school this summer. A lot of her former students ended up enrolling in our school for the full year. If that's not a testament to the difference she made, I'm not sure what is!

Last Sabbath, August 11, we took the teachers on the traditional Island Tour. We weren't able to do it the first weekend as it was pouring rain, and plus the Pierson's were gone so we didn't have the requisite Pierson's Truck, which, as we all know, as a necessary part of all Island Tours. Some pictures:

Mai with the new gang at Last Command Post

The Veterans: Crystal, Bev, & Mai. They've been there and done that, but are more than willing do go there and do it again for the benefit of the newbies on the team!

Riki at her battle station. I hardly ever see Riki, sadly. She works down at the preschool and lives over in the Herjoy's apartments, so it seems I'll only see her on Sabbath. I hope she's doing well!

This is the Grotto as viewed from the overlook. It's hard to tell from this picture, but you are not looking into the mouth of a cave. You are looking down into a cove we call the Grotto, one of the premier swimming and diving spots on Saipan. To reach the Grotto you have to descend a long stairway.

Grotto Blue: This is a photo of the Grotto looking straight into the water.

The Grotto

Jessica is debating whether to jump into the Grotto. After all she didn't bring a swimsuit. Check out the video below of her decision.

Views from Suicide Cliff, on the far northern part of Saipan

Aug 12, 2007

Guess Who I Ran Into?

This past summer seemed to be marked by coincidental meetings. We ran into so many old friends, just by accident. Herewith, a few of the friends who crossed our path--some planned reunions, and some happy surprises. . .

Yeneer Merino, former Saipan Teacher.

We ran into Yeneer at Barbara's parents home church while we were still in Ohio. Yeneer was our 1st/2nd grade teacher, Barbara's first full year as principal in Saipan back in 2002/2003. She was also co-director, with me, of REAL Christian Theater. She'd just taken a job teaching first grade at Bab's high school alma mater, Spring Valley Academy. We were so happy to see Yeneer! A week or so later we took her out for Ohio's finest pizza and ice cream--LaRosa's and Graeters. It was fun getting caught up and reminiscing old times. She misses Saipan a lot and hopes to return someday soon. We hope she comes back too. Yeneer is a gem!

Liane, Babs, and the oldest Farris daughter, whom I nicknamed "Lenzeeno" when she was my student in Saipan.

At church in Kailua, we ran into the Farris family. We last saw them at their home in Singapore when we were there with the 8th graders in March. Well, they came back to Hawaii, where Liane is from, for the summer, and it just so happened that their last weekend of their summer in Hawaii, was our one weekend there. The whole family was there except for Terry. We were sorry to miss him, but it was great to see Liane and the kids again. The Kailua church is Liane's home church since she was a little girl, so she and her kids were active participants all throughout the service.

Babs and I with Aya Sato.

Seeing Aya wasn't an accident, but it was still a pleasure. We've known Aya as long as we've been in Saipan. She was a student at the SDA from kindergarten through the 9th grade. Her connection with the SDA community continued after she left the school through her involvement with REAL Christian Theater where she was a student director for three years. She graduated from NMA/NMC a little more than a year ago and moved with her family to Hawaii to continue her college education. Aya and I have stayed in touch via e-mail, and we decided to get together while we were in Hawaii. Aya had just flown in from her summer vacation in Japan the morning of the day before we left, but fortunately she wasn't too tired to get together for coffee and catching up at Barnes & Nobles and dinner at Ruby Tuesdays with Barbara and me. It was fun to see her again!

Tyce Mister, friend and fellow teacher from Saipan.

Tyce, a long-time Saipan resident and teacher at Marianas High School, who we befriended (along with his wife Angie) through Marriage Encounter, was flying back from States via Maui where he spent a few days with his mom. We both happened to be on the same flight out of Honolulu , and I spotted him a few rows ahead of me soon after we boarded. He decided to join our new preschool director Amy Foote (who was also on my flight) and I on our excursion into Narita during our layover in Japan. The picture above was taken at one of the temples on the grounds of the Naritasan Shinshoji Temple complex. The three of us had a lot of fun hiking the grounds of the temple and feasting on ice cream cones and fresh juicy peaches on our walk back through the city to the train station. I even managed to find a nice Japanese teapot for Babs!

A video of Tyce, Amy, and I adventuring in Narita.

Behold! Bab's hotel, the Narita Mercure!

Just outside the train station in Narita I spotted the hotel where Babs would be staying that night. She, also, was winging her way to Japan on a different flight from us and her connecting flight required her to overnight in Japan. We arrived a few hours ahead of her. It was about that time I realized that I might be able to arrange another surprise encounter. It occured to me that Babs would be landing in Japan before my flight left for Saipan. Wouldn't it be great to surprise her at the gate? Unfortunately, welcoming someone at the gate of an international flight turned out to be far more complicated than I'd thought, and I ended up unable to "run into" her.

The Rankin Family in Japan

As I was seeing Amy and Tyce off on their flight to Saipan (I was on yet another flight that would leave a few hours later and route through Guam), someone called my name. I turned around and it was Gina Rankin! She, along with her husband Ricardo, and their three children were on their way back home to Rota, via Saipan after a long vacation in the States. They chatted for a few minutes before boarding Tyce & Amy's flight.

Unfortunately for them, (but fortunately for us!), their long journey would turn out to be a little longer. They missed their connecting flight to Rota and ended up stranded in Saipan. Gina and the girls were eventually able to get on a flight Friday morning, August 3, a few hours after I landed in Saipan, but Ricardo and his son were stuck until Sabbath morning. So they came home with me and stayed with us until then. Though the circumstances were frustrating for him, it was nice for us to spend some time with Ricardo.

Church in Paradise

Some readers may recall my effusive post last summer about our experience at the Kailua Seventh-day Adventist Church. Having had a little taste of heaven last year, we weren't about to miss another opportunity.

When we walked in, this is what welcomed us.

I especially love how everyone, young and old, is part of the worship group: half a dozen ukeleles and guitars, two saxophones, and many voices raised in praise. Beautiful.

Aug 10, 2007

Our Tenth Anniversary: Marriage Milestones

Traveling Companions

On our first Valentine's Day as a couple, Babs gave me my favorite greeting card that I've ever received. On the cover was a watercolor print of a couple in a red convertible driving on a winding road that ran from the front cover through the trifold inside. The road was lined with signs that said things like Lovetown, West Fork of the River of Love, and Sweet Nothings. Babs had written in on the signs names of places that were meaningful to us--where we were living at the time (Berrien Springs), places we'd come from (Centerville, Florida), and places we hoped to go together (Africa, Bali). She'd written in the road the words "Finding God" and the last sign on the inside of the card read "Highway 2 Heaven." Underneath that she wrote "Yeah!" The text of the card read "Valentine, we could go places together." The card utterly charmed me. It was so joyous, so hopeful, and captured so much of Barbara's sweet spirit. I liked the idea of being on a journey with her, finding adventure, being led by God.

Well, we've been on that journey for ten years now and I'm still feel lucky and blessed to be traveling with the woman who mapped the trip out for us in that card.

On Friday, July 27, 2007, Babs and I celebrated ten years of marriage. I've been with Babs for about a third of my life now, and I can't imagine living without her. Simply put she is my best friend.

The road has been a winding one, full of scenic vistas of unimaginable romantic beauty; straightaways where we floored it, and let the wind blow through our hair, racing on joy; surprising twists and turns. It's been bumpy at times--moments where we disappeared into dark tunnels, not sure when or if we'd emerge. But, so far, it's been an amazing ride, and I can't wait to see what the next 10 years on the road of life hold for us.

Some milestones from our journey:

Year 1: The Little House on Walnut Street. Our first year of marriage we lived in a tiny two bedroom apartment on the second floor of an eighty-year old house on Walnut Street, just a stones throw from the Andrews University campus. It had been Barbara's apartment, and I simply moved in. It was in that cozy little place with it's wood floors, antique furniture, and clawfoot bathtub, that we learned to live together. The house is gone now--the entire block bulldozed by the university to make room for the new Howard Performing Arts Center. Somebody probably plays cello over the very place where we used to sleep. But the most important thing--the love that lived there-remains.

Year 2: Saipan--A Whole New World. The first of the big adventures, Babs and I crossed the world to find ourselves on this tiny little patch of green in the great blue Pacific. . .Saipan. We moved into the apartment now known as the "Girl's Apartment" back when that pink carpet was still bright new and extra flamboyant. We dove into our work as first year teachers and missionaries.

Years 3 & 4: The Amway Years. Yeah, we "did Amway"--or Quixtar, as it is now known, for a few years. Friend of ours drew us in and for awhile we were "fired up!", buying the visions of "achieving our dream" and "going diamond!" Ain't it great! Well, not exactly. In the end, it just wasn't for us. But while we never did get unbelievably rich in two to five years, we did make some nice friends as a result, and we had something that we could work on together for awhile. Those nights coming back from "showing the plan" felt like little dates. That was wealth enough for me.

Year 5: The Breakthrough. Halfway through our first decade was a turning point for us in our marriage on many different levels. That year was definitely one of our hardest, but it ended up also being one of our most rewarding as well.

Year 6: Babs Takes Charge. As we approached our sixth Christmas as a married couple, the principal of the Saipan SDA School quit suddenly. In short order, Barbara was the new principal of the school. It was a year of great change as we adjusted to her new role. From here on it, she would not only be my wife, she'd be my boss as well!

Year 7: Marriage Encounter. Probably the decision that has had the single greatest impact on our married life, was the one to go to a Marriage Encounter weekend. M.E., as we call it, completely changed the way we approached our marriage. We've stayed involved with the M.E. community ever since, encouraging other married couples to do the weekend, so they can too can experience the immeasurable benefits we gained.

Year 8: Puttin' on the Ritz. One thing that really stands out about our 8th anniversary was our splurge at the Ritz Carlton Huntington Hotel & Spa in Pasadena, California. Every couple of years, we try to pull out all the stops for our anniversary at places like the La Valencia in La Jolla, California and the Windward in Guam. But our two days in the lap of luxury at the Ritz beat them all. A lot of the time it's easy to take your marriage for granted, to let the humdrum of everyday life take over. It's good to have those "Ritz" moments where you are reminded again of the priceless value of what you have together.

Year 9: Passionate Marriage. The book by this title by Dr. David Schnarch probably had the second greatest impact on my ideas about marriage (M.E. being the first). During our ninth year together, I read this book and started trying to apply what I learned. That's the thing about marriage--what they don't tell you in the Hollywood movies and radio songs--it takes work. Anybody who thinks it's "silly" to take time to learn how to make your marriage better probably isn't married. At nine years in, Babs and I were still aware that we had plenty of growing to do as a couple.

Year 10. And here we are. We've pulled over, one of those Scenic Spots where you're supposed to stop and take a picture or two. We've looked back at that long and winding road we've traveled so far, and now it's time to go. I look at her, her green eyes, brown curls, bright smile . I take her hand, and she gives me a little squeeze. And with that we pull back on to the road, turn up Mat Kearny, and journey on.

Ten down, and a lifetime to go.

At the Hau Tree Lanai. For our 10th anniversary, we checked into the Aqua Palms and Spa near Waikiki for two nights. After getting settled in our hotel room, we headed out for dinner at the unique and romantic restaurant, the Hau Tree Lanai where we had reservations. The entire beachside restaurant is set up underneath this massive old tree, that the guidbooks tell us, Robert Louis Stevenson once ate under.

The View from our table.

The face I fell in love with.

A shot of the Hau Tree Lanai dining area, taken after dark, just as we were leaving.

Sabbath morning, July 28, 2007, the day after our anniversary we kicked back on our hotel balcony in our matching hotel robes and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast of olive bread, cheese, yogurt, and other goodies before heading off to church.

Saturday night, July 28, Waikiki Beach. Around sunset, Babs and I took a walking tour of Waikiki (having learned the hard way last year that driving in Waikiki on a Saturday night is a fools errand. Plus it's way more fun seeing Waikiki on foot, hand in hand with your favorite girl). It was really nice--the sort of thing that we haven't done in a long time. Walking together with no schedule and not a care in the world. We ended up eating at Cheeseburger in Paradise and postcard shopping in the International Market before heading back to our hotel.

Waikiki Twilight

Come on and we'll sing, like we were free
Push the pedal down watch the world around fly by us
--Mat Kearny