Nov 25, 2007

My Personal Influences: Inspirations 2007

Here it is, the final installment of my Personal Influences series--the only part of the series that I intend to continue on an annual basis--the Inspirations.

To be honest, the names on this list were a bit of an afterthought. I had a complete list of people whose influence on my life over the years I'd been able to pin down to some degree. But there were names that kept floating around in my mind--names of people that expanded my vision, that made me rethink the possiblities of life. Simply put, the people on this list were my heroes. These people have less to do with who I am now and more to do with what I want to be. Have they all influenced me? I hope so, becaues to be more like them would make me a better person.

Coming up with these final twelve names was easy, describing how and why these folks inspire me was harder. Words often fail when we are trying to describe someone who awakens in us the desire to fly higher than we have, to reach for higher ground. Even now, I'm not sure I did such a great job. But I did my best, and that, each in their own way, is what these people have done as well. At least from my point of view, they've done their best.

Next summer I will create an Inspirations 2008 list, and hope to continue the tradtiion annually. Already the names for next year's list are piling up. Once you start looking for the people who inspire you, you find they are everywhere! Thinking about the people who've made a difference in my life has been incredibly rewarding. As this series comes to close I want to leave you with two thoughts: First, I encourage you to let the people who've impacted you know that they've made a difference--they'll appreciate it more than you realize and you'll be blessed by expressing that gratitude more than you expect. Second, know that everyone makes a difference; everyone is influential. So that means that you too are on someone's else's list of the people who have made a difference.

Britni Gleason
Aya Sato
Keisha Paez
Aya Kito
Eric Mahinay
Russ & Kanae Quinn
Mai Rhea Odiyar
Vernon Luthas
Ken Pierson
Virleshay Gayatin

Britni Gleason
Her heart inspires me. . .
The pure grit, the hard-core will of this young woman never ceases to amaze me. She's got this wildfire inside her--it's probably why Southern California's been in flames this fall--cuz Britni's there. She came to Saipan last year as a novice teacher with a pretty gloomy estimation of her own talents. But she wouldn't quit. She soaked up knowledge like a sponge, she dove in and made mistakes and learned from them, she welcomed any help she could get, embraced correction and instruction, and literally willed herself into greatness as a teacher. And that is what she achieved--greatness. I hear these days she's training for a marathon. I'm not surprised to hear it, and won't be surprised when I hear that she's crossed the finish line. Her heart will have carried her there.

Aya Sato
Her service inspires me. . .
Recently I was pondering what it was I really wanted for my students. What were my hopes for them, my fondest dreams? Well, a simple answer would be to say that they'd turn out a bit like Aya. There are a lot of reasons Aya makes my heart swell with pride and love, but one of the biggest is her genuine desire to serve others. I'm ashamed to say that I didn't have a tenth of her concern for the hurting ones of this world when I was her age. Her latest project is her involvement is with the Invisible Children of Uganda. In addition to her social work class load, job, and remembering to e-mail me occasionally with funny and heartwarming updates on her exploits, she's one of the leaders of her university's chapter that works with these children in crisis. Not only do I hope my current students reflect the spirit of service Aya shines, I hope I do too.

His good cheer inspires me. . .
"Harry" was my student for the past several years up until he moved to the States this past summer. In all the time I've known him, he always had this stubborn good-naturedness. I know his life has been anything but easy, but somehow he always managed to keep his chin up. Whether he was clowning around on stage as a member of REAL Christian Theater, or cheerfully stepping up to do the work no one else felt like doing on our men's campout this past spring, he always kept it positive. I don't think I ever heard him complain about anything. I'm sure his postive attitude is being put to the test as he faces the challenges of 8th grade in a brand new, much larger school, but I hope he keeps smiling. People have told me that "Harry" is what they imagine I would have been like as a kid. I don't know about that, but I do hope I can be like "Harry "now, as an adult.

Keisha Paez
Her determination inspires me. . .
There is a single memory I have of Keisha that captures what I find inspiring about her. I've told this story so many times to so many people because I've never stopped marveling at the guts and crazy determination of this girl. She was in the fifth grade and on her first off-island tour with our theater troupe. She was burning up with a fever, literally huddled in the fetal position offstage. I should have probably sent her to bed--though to be honest I don't think she would have let me. When it was her turn to perform, she walked out onstage and gave her best performance of the season. When the curtain fell and she returned backstage, she returned to her fever-wracked fetal position--at least until the next show. Keisha's a college freshman now, and somehow I know that no matter how hard it is, no matter how scared she is, no matter how uncertain she is of her own abilities, she'll somehow find the strength to get up and walk straight into the unknown, without flinching, and give the performance of her life.

Aya Kito
Her appreciation inspires me. . .
It was somehow fitting that one inspirational Aya should introduce me to another one. Aya Sato had been bugging me for months to watch this Japanese televison drama, 1 Litre of Tears. "You will love it, "she promised, "It is so amazing." And it was, but even more than the show, I was amazed by the story of the real person behind it: Aya Kito. Aya developed a degenerative neurological condition during her early teens that slowly and cruelly took away her ability to run, walk, conduct basic motor skills, and eventually even robbed her of her speech and made simple actions like swallowing potentially fatal. Aya chronicled her journey in a journal that was eventually published under the title 1 Litre of Tears and was an inspiration to many for her perserverance in the face of adversity. There's lot of inspiration to be found in Aya's story, but what really impacted me was her appreciation for life--the sense of gratitude she fought to maintain. I was just beginning this personal influences series when I encountered Aya's story and the way she treasured the people and experiences in her short life, encouraged me to continue this project. Aya's appreciation challenged me to better appreciate the many blessings in my own life.

Eric Mahinay
His compassion inspires me. . .
Most people don't go willingly to prison. Eric does. Every Tuesday he goes to visit the inmates at Saipan's correctional facility, to study the Bible and pray with them. And every Sabbath he stands up during "family time" in church to share news from jail and to ask us to pray for the inmates, all with a big smile and an almost innocent kind of enthusiasm that absolutely cannot be faked. His compassion and concern for the prisoners is clearly heartfelt and genuine. This is not just the head elder "doing his job." He really cares about men that--let's face it--most of us have given up on. This past week, Eric was out of town and he asked me to go to the prison in his place. My admiration increased when I realized how petrified I was to meet with prisoners, but my understanding of his passion grew as well, when Ken and I met with the prisoners and I found the fellowship to be so rewarding. "I was in prison and you visited me," Jesus said, identifying himself with those in society that are forgotten and ignored--the "least of these, My brothers". Eric remembered the Savior's words and he's visiting Jesus faithfully every Tuesday evening.

Her wisdom inspires me. . .
Smart people are a dime a dozen. Smart-alecks are more common still. People with wisdom, however, are a rarity. In the trackless reaches of the world wide web, I've been fortunate to come across someone who is truly wise. She goes by the screen name "Yolland" and she's one of the moderators for Free Your Mind, a forum on On virtually every topic, no matter how heated and hyperbolic the debate gets, "Yolland" can draw everyone up short with a single, usually lengthy and well-thought out post that manages to cut through to the heart of the issue and draw out reasonable, insightful, and wise conclusions. Now I suppose any run-of-the-mill brilliant person could do that--and "Yolland" is brilliant. She's a college professor who speaks several languages and her brain literally seems to work faster than most people's. But what gives "Yolland" wisdom is how she uses her agile mind. She's unfailingly kind, considerate, patient, and unbelievably humble (I'd have trouble getting through doors if I had her intellect--that's how big my head would be). "Yolland" always makes you feel good, always treats you with respect, and best of all she makes you feel as smart as she is.

Russ & Kanae Quinn
Their faith inspires me. . .
They are beautiful people--successful, attractive, energetic, charismatic. But what inspires me most about this lovely couple is not all those high-wattage qualities, but their amazing journey to and in faith. It's their story of God finding them in their darkest times--times of failure, exhaustion, and ugliness--that has touched my heart the most. I grew up in a home where a relationship with Jesus was a given. I couldn't imagine what it was like to find Christ for the first time--after all He'd always been there--and unfortunately, as a result, I've often been careless and taken His presence in my life for granted. But Russ and Kanae have helped me fully appreciate my Christian faith, as they have shared their journey towards a living, active relationship with God over the past few years. The amazing story is theirs to tell and if one day you're lucky enough to hear them tell it, I'm willing to bet you'll be inspired--just like I was--by their beautiful spirit and even more so by the beauty of the Savior they've found.

Close my eyes and hold my heart
Cover me and make me something
Change this something normal
Into something beautiful

--"Something Beautiful" Jars of Clay

Mai Rhea Odiyar
Her dedication inspires me. . .
You can count on her. It's really that simple. When the chips are down, when push comes to shove, when times get tough--you can count on gentle, quiet, kind, soft-spoken, tough-as-nails, rock-solid Mai Rhea Odiyar. Mai will stick it out. She'll do what needs to be done. With Mai its always work first, play later--and one she does play, trust me, you want her on your team. For almost two years now Mai has blessed our school with her dedicated spirit, steadfastly anchoring the third and fourth grade classroom. Even when all her friends were moving on, and I'm sure it would have been easier for her to be carried by the tide of exiting teachers, Mai stayed firm while changes eddied around her. You see there was this little thing--a commitment she'd made, and she wouldn't budge from that. As responsible as she is, I must say Mai is also a lot of fun to be around. But then, lots of people are fun to be around; only a few can be counted on. Mai is one of those few and I'm lucky to count her a friend.

Dr. Vernon Luthas
His generous spirit inspires me. . .
It was a Sabbath afternoon in the summer of 2006 when the phone rang at my in-laws home. It was Dr. Luthas and he wanted to speak to me. I took the phone and Dr. Luthas politely enquired about the sound system for the drama ministry I direct, REAL Christian Theater. I don't suppose I was too surprised, as Dr. Luthas is one of several faithful donors to our ministry at the Centerville Seventh-day Adventist Church in Ohio. But then Dr. Luthas offered to raise funds for us to purchase our own sound system. And he proceeded to do exactly that. He talked to friends, colleagues, and church members and collected enough money for us to be able buy our own sound system within a few months. I admire Dr. Luthas because he saw a need, offered to fill that need without being asked, and then sacrificed the time and money to make sure the need was filled--all without any reward or gain for himself. That's the kind of generous spirit I want to exhibit.

Dr. Ken Pierson
His pro-active support inspires me. . .
Ken is a dentist, but he cares about a whole lot more than teeth. In fact, though he's a missionary, the director of the Saipan SDA Dental clinic, he cares about a lot more than just his mission. Ken is a supporter of the church--a church elder and a regular attendee at almost all the church functions. He's also a supporter of the school. He and his wife Crystal always take the time to attend our school events, help out on our annual school camping trip, and promote our school to the community. He and his staff are always willing to pitch in and lend a hand whenever they can and wherever they are needed. The work that's been done on our school during the summers and also during the school year couldn't have happened without his direction and supportive stance. Being married to an administrator, I know how much the support of fellow leaders can mean. I know Barbara appreciates Ken's support, and that in turns make me appreciate him more as well.

Virleshay Gayatin
Her hard work inspires me. . .
As I write this, Virle is on vacation. She doesn't take breaks often but they are always, always well-earned. Virle works long hours and manages a multitude of tasks. I'm sure she gets tired but she rarely lets on and is always willing--perhaps more than she should be--to help others on the staff when asked. With Virle, it's more than just duty that keeps her shoulder to the wheel. She loves our school, she believes in it, she wants to keep it good and make it great. Hers is a labor of love, a work of the heart. Rich Mullins sings that "there's a rest you find in work that you can't get out of sleep." If that's so then Virle must rest well. But I hope she gets some sleep too, and couple hours of the reality TV shows she and I love to gossip about. She's worked hard. She deserves it.

Nov 23, 2007

Life Time

Many of you have probably noticed the song that's been playing recently on my blog. It's called "Lifetime" by Mat Kearny and it has to be one of my favorite songs right now. I've disabled the autostart feature on the song, as I figured most regular readers have heard the song plenty of times already though. However, if you'd like to hear the song, all you have to do is click on the "play" key of the player in the top right corner of the page. From time to time I may change the song that will play when this blog is opened.

Here's the lyrics to "Lifetime."

I'm not about the hip-hop kid
I'm for your life

Well here's another stone in the walls of this lifetime, of this lifetime.
I built them tall but they gonna fall
When the days gone by, when my children cry.
When I'm gone and gray what will the people say about this lifetime?
I'll stand to say you that you came my way with the Son of love, the brightest day
Of this lifetime.

Just wanna stop and take a second to tell you how I feel.
It seems like lately I've been bouncin' from heaviness to zeal.
What's on this kids heart seems to be my only art.
Seems like my wordplay's been stoppin' before it starts.
Everytime I sit down to flip lines with dope rhymes
I can't escape this notion as the word starts to chime. I hear this voice beckonin and callin'
"Stop your mockin' and stallin'
Who you followin',
better who you leadin' and believin'?
Are you talking or decievin'?"
And another crumple ball hits the trash can
And here I stand an empty man
Just to tell you my son, baby girl
You're the one, the reason that I'm doing this
Why I pursue this. Cause I've been burnt by a kiss
That's infected my heart and I can't part from the Son's love.
The falling dove, the Father up above
Who keeps seekin' and speakin' softly callin' with power
To shower gifts that lift burdens that bend
That's why I come around That's why I stop to write
That's why I step now to grease these mics
Cause I'm not about the hip-hop kid I'm for your life

Well here's another stone in the walls of this lifetime, of this lifetime.
I built them tall but they gonna fall
When the days gone by, when my children cry.
When I'm gone to gray what will the people say about this lifetime?
I'll stand to say you that you came my way with the Son of love, the brightest day
Of this lifetime

I'll grab these chrome domes and wet these pop shields
Belting out these simple tones over these winding reels
Just so you can rock flows and twist on radios
Spinning disc and rolled tapes and waxes turning in your phone
When all is said and done and the record has been spun and the tape has been run
The CDs all scratched, it ain't my day in the sun
What will they look back and say was the brush of my pen the reason I got in?
What did I leave for my kin, my peers and all my peoples, my friends and all my equals?
Was I tripping up my folk or mountin wings like eagles?
Was evil in my will or will blessing now for this child
I've gone wild for miles with rhymes and sparked smiles to get ya'll to a place
Where you look me in my face to breathe and to taste a love that will erase
The teeth grinding hopeless finding all the painful past mining the caves of corruption
Turnin back to nothing but all the while you want your father's, a father's heart
Lord, I can't do you justice but I did my best spoke my chest
I leave it up for you to do the rest cause when the fire refines all else is just ashes

Well here's another stone in the walls of this lifetime, of this lifetime.
I built them tall but they gonna fall
When the days gone by, when my children cry.
When I'm gone and gray what will the people say about this lifetime?
I'll stand to say you that you came my way with the Son of love, the brightest day
Of this lifetime

I'm ready, I'm ready, I'm ready
To make a rock my home
I'm ready, I'm ready, I'm ready
To build with bricks of gold.

Thanksgiving at the Maycock's 2007

This year's guests. Isn't Babs beautiful in this photo? I love her smile and those bright eyes!

Babs and I hosted our annual Thanksgiving feast this year. We had one very long table, 19 guests, and lots and lots of delicious food as always, including three pumpkin pies, two apple pies, and one cherry pie--all homemade by Bev, Mai, and myself.

I thought it all came together pretty well. The food was ready on time, and within 45 minutes of the arrival of the first guests, we were sitting down to eat. I feel like we get better at the logistics of this every year. Unfortunately Babs has been sick for the past few days, but she managed to make it through the evening okay.

Our Guest List:

Judith, our 5-7 Homeroom teacher; Jessica, our ESL teacher; and Riki, our pre-school student missionary.

Bev, a dear friend who works at the SDA Dental Clinic, and her friend Greg.

Ken, director the SDA dental clinic with two of our students.

Joeie a preschool teacher and all-around indispensable staff member; and Tito , one of my former students.

Shoshana & Chad--friends visiting from Guam

Ken with his wife Crystal, also a dentist at the SDA Dental Clinic

Carol, parent of several of our students and one of Bab's closest friends, and Mai, our 3/4 grade teacher.

Eva, our Grade 1/2 teacher and Veronyka, our kindergarten teacher bring the green bean casserole.

Beth and Matt--friends visiting from Guam

The Table

The Turkey

Ken orchestrates the passing of the plates.

Nov 21, 2007

The Turkey Trot

This was the only picture I was able to take of some of Team SDA before the run began. I had to leave my camera in the car at the base of the mountain and besides, I wouldn't have had the spare energy for picture taking anyway. From L to R, Bev, Me, Jessica, Judith, Riki, & Mai.

They call it "The Turkey Trot"-- a rather benign name for a grueling Thanksgiving morning run from sea level at Lower Base to the pinnacle of the highest point on Saipan--Mt. Topachau. I don't think I did anything remotely like "trotting" during the course of this mostly uphill 4.2 mile run.

Over the years, I'd been invited numerous times by various friends to do the "Trot" and for years, I declined. It was awful early in the morning--and on a holiday, no less, when I didn't have to get up early. Furthermore, up until last year I didn't even like running so the idea had even less appeal.

But this season, I and my running buddies, Mai, Judith, and Jessica decided early on that this year we were going to do it. For someone as schedule-oriented as I am that was the key: planning my Thanksgiving activities around it and being able to "train" a little bit for it by running some of the small hills near our home.

And so 6:00 A.M. on Thanksgiving morning found us at the starting line with a motley crew of avid runners, once-a-year Trot enthusiasts, and other early risers. I was excited and a little nervous. My personal goals were simple. A) To make it to the top. B) To run the entire distance. C) To not totally hate every minute of it.

Mt. Tapochau as seen from sea level at American Memorial Park.

The run started off well enough. The big worry for me, ironically, was not the rocky, rutted slopes of Tapochau near the end, but the first leg of the journey, the long, curving incline up Capitol Hill. There were few level stretches on this part of the run and I wondered if I'd tire out on such a long hill. It was here that our group spread out, each person finding their own pace--Jessica pulling far ahead and soon out of sight, Judith a tiny figure up ahead, and Mai within calling distance in front of me. I'd been worried that my pride, my need to "keep up" would take over, and I would push my self harder than I should, using up valuable energy I would need for later. I was pleased to find that my pride was broken and I was at peace with the pace I'd chosen. (I'm sure the fact that I passed quite a few walkers and runners also helped). Though the trek to the crest of Capitol Hill was challenging as I'd expected, I was able to do it without walking once, and reached the top with energy to spare. So far, so good.

The jaunt through the Capitol Hill residential area was smooth, and soon the asphalt turned to gravel as I began the ascent of Topachau itself. There were some beautiful vistas, snatches of ocean blue through gaps in the tree line as I jogged ever higher. As I approached the Coral Island Condominiums, the uniformly upbeat songs on my ipod cut out and the quiet, meditative guitar of Rich Mullins' "All the Way My Savior Leads Me" soothed my weary steps. Perhaps not the typical "running song" but it was just what I needed. For a moment, the run became a metaphor for my life: "All the way my Savior leads me and he cheers each winding path I tread, gives me strength for every trial. . .though my weary steps may falter and my soul athirst may be, gushing from a rock before, lo a spring of joy I see. . ." I kept running.

Finally, at the steepest incline of the entire race--a brutal, rocky stretch that usually has my car straining and spitting gravel when we drive to Tapochau--I stopped running. I felt a little bad--I'd wanted to run it all--it's why I'd chosen a slower pace, but I quickly felt both better and worse. I'd thought walking would be easier--the reward for one who couldn't hack the run, but I was quickly proved wrong. This one walking stretch proved to be hardest part of the entire journey. Every step was an act of will--bent forward, hands on my knees, breath in agonizing gasps. Switchfoot's lyrics interspersed with my ragged thoughts:

"Don't leave me--"Step. "I'm tired." Step. "I'm tired of feeling. .low "step. foot slips. "Low." gasp of air. "without lungs." "I want more than my lonely--"Step.

At the crest of that incline at the last water station, I finally caught up with Mai. I gulped down some Gatorade, and began running the final home stretch. The last incline is pretty steep and I wasn't sure if I had energy left to make it up. But, it was just like they say, just when you're not sure you can go another step, the finish line is in sight, and everyone's cheering, and somehow you find the energy to pick up the pace to a slow-motion sprint and finish the race strong. It took me one hour, five minutes and 15 seconds (Though I forgot to look at my watch at the beginning and end of the run, I was able to figure that out based on my ipod playlist and the times for each song).

The View from the Top. On Mt. Tapochau's summit.

I feel I did accomplish my goals. I made it to the top. I ran the whole way--and the one stretch where I didn't, the walk demanded more of me than all the running put together--so I count it a success. And finally, I didn't totally hate every minute. There were hard moments to be sure, but exhilarating ones too, and the tremendous feeling of accomplishment I had at the end--and still have now--made it all worth it. I can't wait to do it again!

"I Want to Run"--The Songs That Got Me to the Top

I confess, I'm not a real runner. The zen-like peace of running with just the quiet of my thoughts, my beating heart, the pace of my breathing? That's not me. No, I need motivation. I need music--to keep me from my naturally skeptical thoughts--"Why am I doing this?", "Wow, this is REALLY hard" and so on--to keep from noting my racing heart and gasping breaths.\ And so I created a playlist on my ipod just for this run to the top of Mt. Tapochau.

Here they are--the songs that got me to the top:

1. Where the Streets Have No Name--U2 Inspiring, anthemic, turning the corner at Lower Base, I "wanted to run" indeed. No better song to start the odyssey to the top.

2. Zoo Station--U2 As I turn on to Isa Drive and begin the first incline, "I'm ready. . ."

3. Remember the Name--Fort Minor

4. Dirty Little Secret--All-American Rejects

5. No One Like You--David Crowder Band

6. Boulevard of Broken Dreams-Green Day

7. Ooh-Ah--GRITS

8. Life Time--Matt Kearny

9. Beautiful Day--U2

10. All the Way My Savior Leads Me--Rich Mullins

11. The Howling--Rich Mullins

12. This is Your Life--Switchfoot--"This is your life, are you who you want to be?" And I realize, Yes. I am.

13. Gone--Switchfoot

14. Lonely Nation--Switchfoot

15. Stars--Switchfoot

16. Happy is a Yuppie Word (partial)--Switchfoot About midway through this song, I turned the final corner and saw the finish line. I wanted to end on something upbeat, so I clumsily skipped up a few songs, looking for something, and was hooked by a forgotten pop song of the late 80's that I have always and unabashedly loved. With it's driving beat, and cheesy yet heroic keyboards, it was all I needed to pick up my pace and churn to the finish. The song? A one-hit wonder entitled:

17. Soldier of Love (partial)--Donny Osmond.

Awhile later, triumphant atop Topachau, the wind in my face and the entire panorama of Saipan spread before me, I listened to one more song--a song I'd actually heard played live and then gotten a bootleg copy off the internet:

18. Beautiful Day (Recorded Live in Japan with snippets of "Srgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band")--U2

Nov 16, 2007

On the Rocks

You stand facing sheer rock, rock pocked with almost imperceptible indentations and tiny clefts that are expected to provide support for your hands and feet. Around your waist is a harness; attached to it is a rope that leads up, up, up to an anchor unseen somewhere above you. You combat the tendency to question the reliability of the harness, the strength of the rope, the stability of the anchor by refusing to entertain the questions, by shutting down your imagination. Where do I start? Tenatively, you begin to climb, putting hands and feet on. . .what? You’re not sure. But something. Somehow you are moving up the rock face. But then you stall, muscles straining, your hands being cut by the razor edges of the volcanic rock, your mind on the brink of rushing into panic. You stay calm by sheer will. You look around for where to go next, but you don’t look down. Ever.

Sound fun?

It is. . .sort of. To be honest, the moments I described above are not really that fun at all, but ironically it is those very not-so-fun moments that make the whole experience so deeply gratifying and yes, in fact, quite fun. This past weekend I went rock climbing for the first time in my life and I had a blast. We actually went twice; first on Sunday afternoon and then again Monday morning. I’m particularly grateful to the experienced climbers Allan, Steve, and Ken who helped me learn the ropes. They were very generous with their expertise and if they were ever annoyed that newbies like me were hogging up the climbs they’d so carefully set, they never let on. It was exhilarating to be up there, perched on the edge of some really fantastic views of the northern end of Saipan—especially Monday morning when we weren’t climbing ahead of encroaching darkness. There were moments of true beauty, watching a white tern floating in the drafts below, butterflies whispering among us as we stood among the crags, and a double rainbow that welcomed us to our first climb Sunday afternoon. All of these things were nice, but they wouldn’t have been half as rewarding if I’d just been there to watch, if I hadn’t tested myself against the rock. The challenge of climbing made entire experience much richer.

Getting roped in for the climb.

That's me on the intermediate climb on Monday morning.

Allan, in the beard and sunglasses, is an attorney here on Saipan and an experienced rock climber and sensei to us newbies.

Lately, I’ve developed a yearning for adventures—I’ve spent nine years on Saipan and barely scratched the surface of the adventures that await on this little island. Maybe it started last year with Grant, and our forays into the Saipan hinterlands—whatever the case, the thirst for action is definitely there. One of my August “new year’s” resolutions was to be “more active” and so far I have been keeping that resolution. I’m getting recertified to dive, I’m working out at the gym and running, and now, I’m rock climbing. All of these activities have in common those “not-so-fun” moments—those times where, if I let myself, I’d wonder “why on earth am I doing this?” The answer to that question, I think, tells a truth about life. Nothing truly rewarding and worthwhile comes without effort, without some pain, without some sacrifice. We suit up in a bunch of heavy gear to go underwater, we challenge ourselves to run to the top of Mt. Tapochau, we face that imposing rock wall, because we know that the struggle is worth the cost, that there is great reward in pushing ourselves a little farther, a little higher than we would ordinarily be comfortable going. These activities shouldn’t be unremitting misery—and they generally aren’t, but there has to be that element of discomfort for it to be worthwhile.

Jessica on her first climb ever, on the "easy" rock I climbed the same rock on Sunday then shifted to the intermediate climb on Monday.

Ken Pierson finds a new--and much more difficult path up the intermediate face.

Mai rocks the rock. The last time she went climbing, her picture ended up in one of the local magazines!

Judith on the advanced climb, above, and approaching the top, below. That's the one I want to try next!

Babs has been gone this past week and I’ve been looking for ways to entertain myself. I’ve watched a lot of movies and I’ve also gone rock climbing, and I have to admit that while watching movies was a lot easier, less painful, and less scary, I felt ten times better when I finally reached the small summit of that rock than I did when the DVD finished. The movie required nothing of me but my passive attention; the rock required more than I thought I could give, but it was the activity that required the most of me that gave me back the most.

Nov 10, 2007

For Grant: "The Ties that Bind"

No, we haven't all become Mormon missionaries. . .These are the 7th and 8th grade boys sporting the ties that their former teacher and my former colleague Grant Graves sent us.

Grant mentioned to me an a recent e-mail that he wasn't sure what would happen when he moved back to the Mainland--whether we'd drift apart or remain friends. He was glad to see that our friendship seemed to be going strong. I am too. I was actually more optimistic about that, I think, than he was, but I understand his skepticism too. We've seen so many people come and go over the years and for the most part, most of them have drifted out of our lives or hovered only near the very edges, moving back into closer orbit when we happen to be passing through Southern California or the pages of Myspace. Even some, like Big Will, my buddy from Chuuk who stood up at my wedding have disappeared off my radar. Whose to say how long Grant and I--and these boys--will manage to keep the connection going. It could be a year or five or, perhaps, a lifetime. We can't know for sure. Likewise it seems hard to believe that people that I hold dear now--who are daily part of what makes life fun and precious in Saipan--Mai, Jessica, Judith, Virle, the Piersons, and so many others, may someday be footnotes in my memory. I don't want that to be the case. It makes me sad to think of it.

But it gives me another reason to look forward to heaven, where friendships grow but never grow apart. I look forward to reconnecting then with all those wonderful people for whom the ties between us have slipped for now.

Nov 9, 2007

Recommended Reading

Well, I'm finally getting around to spiffing up my blog a little bit. One of my first tasks was to update my list of links. There are a couple of blogs I read quite regularly and you know what? You should too!

Herewith my take on some of my favorite blogs, many of which have been newly added to my link list. Check em out:

Grant's Blog--This guy can outwrite most people with one arm tied behind his back. His entries at GrantNGeorgia are always thought provoking and Grant always manages to draw a fresh perspective from the ordinary moments of life's journey.

Bev's Blog--Bev's blog, Bubbles in Paradise, is an island classic, the perfect blend of newsy updates on her quite exciting life and disarming and charming glimpses into her heart. She also has links to just about every blog on Saipan.

Mai's Blog--If you get tired of waiting for my next post, and want to know what's going on in our lives in Saipan, the place to go to get the latest news at a glance is Mai At A Glance. She's probably the most consistent poster, and her thoughtful, articulate posts cover just about every major happening in the SDA community on Saipan.

Judith's Blog--If poetic prose and vivid, memorable wordplay is your thing you'll love Judith's literary and open-hearted blogs about life as a student missionary teacher in Saipan. Her Tales of a Whimsy Peddler are sure to bring a smile to your face and touch your heart.

Riki's Blog-If you're short on time but want to get the big picture of what's happening in Saipan, Riki's blog Me, Myself and Island is the place to go. Her brief once a week posts summarize all the key events in the Saipan SDA community with her trademark understated humor and grace. Her "Saipanisms" at the end of each entry are a highlight.

Brit's Blog--This is the blog of our kindergarten teacher from last year, Britni Gleason. You have to be invited to read her blog BDGSBlog, but if you are among the Lucky Ones, chances are you know Britni so her occasional posts about life as an OT student at Loma Linda University will be a must-stop destination as you tour the blogosphere.

Vero's Blog--Veronyka Perez is this year's kindergarten teacher. She posts a couple times of month, and her posts are full spiritual food for thought and her unique insights into teaching the little ones at Saipan SDA School. Veroynka is passionate about being a missionary and it shows in her blog, Vero in Saipan.

Jessica's Blog--I always stop in at Jessica's blog, Jess.I.Sm to see if she's posted recently. She doesn't post as frequently as some other bloggers (though, that may change in the future, right Jess), but when she does you can count on a charming, uinique perspective on the life of a student missionary in Saipan.

Marianas Eye--If you're looking for a perspective of life in Saipan outside of the SDA community , you can't do better than the Marianas Eye, the blog by my friend Dr. David Khoram. David is one of the sharpest minds around and his witty, good-natured posts always make me think. He's got his finger on the pulse of our island community and usually has some excellent insights on the important issues our island is facing.

Ken & Crystal's Blog--The Pierson's blog is THE place to go to see fantastic photography. Both Ken and Crystal have a real gift for photography and their blogs are always glossy and beautiful. Saipan never looked so good as when seen through the perceptive lens of Ken & Crystal's Adventures. Their pictures could easily put National Geographic out of business.

Each of these blogs is unique it's own way, each contributes toward a full picture of the life we all share here in Saipan. I hope you'll take the time to visit the sites above. I think you'll be glad you did.

Nov 4, 2007

A Very Expensive Piece of Plastic

The pricey plastic and the ruined cell phone, with its battery removed.

Okay so Babs and I are down at the beach. We're sitting in the car waiting for everyone to arrive for the baptisms of some new members.

I notice this piece of plastic floating by in the shallows and it's driving me crazy. I can't stand to see litter ruining our beautiful tropical environment. I decided I'll just wade out there and grab it.

So I roll up my khakis and dash out into the water. It quickly creeps up to my knees, then my thighs, then finally past my waist, to my chest before I finally reach the plastic wrap. And before I remember my wallet and. . oh NOOOOOOOO! My cell phone! I rip it out of my pocket, hoping to save it, but one glance at what appears to be water trapped in the blank screen and I know it's too late.

I return to the car, dripping wet carrying the very expensive plastic and my ruined cell phone, cursing myself for my own stupidity. Thankfully, Babs said nothing about my idiotic behavior (though I'm sure she was just dying to) and I was grateful for that. Luckily, I had a pair of shorts in the car so I was able to change pants, so I didn't have to stand through the entire baptism in dripping trousers looking like someone who decided to get baptized but changed their minds at the last minute!

So I guess it's time to shop around for a new cell phone. . .My friend and fellow teacher Judith says that if you leave the battery out of the phone for three days it will work again, but I'm not convinced of that at all.

The scene of the crime. If you're going to destroy your cell phone, you might as well do it in a beautiful place.

That's all the stuff in my wallet spread out to dry, with the empty wallet open in the top right corner on top of the blank CDs.


So for the past week our lives have been dominated by one word and one place: Kagman. Kagman, a village on the eastern side of the island, is about as rural as it gets in Saipan. And it's far--at least what passes for far in Saipan. It's a good twenty minute drive from just about any other point on the island. This bucolic location has been the site of our church's big evangelistic effort, a two week series of nightly meetings. Our pastor and a core group of church members worked hard for months in advance to lay the "groundwork", tirelessly visiting people door to door in the community and conducting Bible studies. The actual meetings began Saturday night, October 20, and most of the members committed to coming out to Kagman just about every night for the next two weeks to sing, greet, assist with the children's program, pray, and even cook! (We provided samples of delicious vegetarian dishes and copies of the recipes almost every night). It made for a long night, and was often physically and spiritually exhausting, but in the end the effort was worth it. Unlike most evangelistic meetings where the first night is the biggest and the numbers dwindle after that down to a small core group, attendance increased each night as positive word spread. And this past Sabbath, twenty-two people decided to get baptized, almost all of them local folks (which is phenomenal since there are virtually no indigeneous people in the Seventh-day Adventist church on Saipan. Or there weren't until now.)

But, while it's easy to get excited about numbers, the real success was individual--for each person that caught a vision of living a healthier lifestyle, for each person that felt that touch of God's love in their hearts, for each person that finally found the answers they'd been looking for, the effort was worth it.

To be honest, the actual execution of the series was a bit disorganized. We started out with a set program of events, an eclectic mix of music, scripture, health talks, and sometimes even drama. That rapidly devolved to a kind of fly by the seat-of-our-pants operation directed by our speaker, Pastor Melvin Duenas, a pastor who flew in from Guam from for this event. The progam came to consist of the health talk, the main message, and music as Pastor Duenas saw the need for it (sometimes to the surprise and consternation of the unsuspecting choir!). Fortunately, God wasn't limited by our foibles and He seemed to work in spite of our gaffes.

My main contribution to the effort was to make sure there was drinking water on site and to lead the prayer operation for the event. Babs boldly took on the task of coordinating the vegetarian tasting samples including special K loaf, vegetarian "meat" patties, veggie chili, burritos and lots of other tasty dishes. Needless they were highlights of every evening. Providing the water was a pretty easy task. As for the prayer, my fellow prayer "warriors" and I would arrive for the beginning of program, then decamp to an out of the way location--usually a nearby home that we had access to--to pray. Our prayer time consisted of combination of quiet, meditative private prayer, group prayer sessions where each person prayed as they felt moved to do so (we call this "popcorn prayer"),and Bible reading followed by sharing scripture promises and specific prayer needs. We'd finish up about 10 to 15 minutes before the program ended, and return to the "big tent" to so that we could be there to meet and mingle with the attendees when the program was over. I think leading in the prayer was the best way for me to contribute, as I'm sure if I'd sat through all the meetings I would have quickly gotten myself all lathered up and distracted by the differences between my new-school theology and the speaker's old-timey take on the message. By praying, I could focus on what God was doing, rather than on critiquing what the speaker was doing.

The "Big Tent" at dusk, not long before the meetings begin. The tent was constructed by several talented church members. One of the answers to prayer for this meeting: In the midst of the rainy, typhoon season, we had great weather throughout the series. There were a few rain showers, but none of the massive downpours or even worse, a typhoon, that would have completely ruined the tent and the event.

The Choir sings. They sang just about every song in their repertoire and learned to sing on a dime, as one never knew when their service might be called upon.

That's me and one of the members of my drama team, REAL Christian Theater. On the first night, we performed a skit about how people relate to the Bible (this particular actor portrays someone who keeps the Holy Book sealed in a plastic container and never opens it, let alone reads it). As the schedule shifted, the rest of our scheduled performances were moved to the following Sabbath morning program.

Me, introducing our first skit on Sabbath morning. For the past two Sabbaths (and also this coming Sabbath as well. They've decided to have a few more meetings this week and extend the series a third week), we've had our church services under the big tent in Kagman. Please note that the screens you see in the background highlight that day's topic and have nothing to do with the skits we're performing.

In this skit called "The Bus" about spiritual priorities, Jesus (played by me). . .

get's moved to the back of the bus. . .

. . .and eventually kicked to the curb. . .

. . .with distasterous results following.

A skit about how we get "stuck" in sin. . .these actors are "stuck" to the "Sin Chair"

This skit, entitled "Molding Jesus" talks about how we often try to make Jesus conform to our image, when in fact what he wants to do is transform us into His image.

The Children's Program Before: The kids program shifted around a few times, starting out in their own tent behind the main tent, then moving to the parking lot of Roshi's, a variety store alongside the lot where our tent was located, before finally the good folks at Roshi's invited the us to have our kids programs inside the store itself, where they could sing and play and learn as loud as they liked without worrying about distracting those in the main tent. The Roshi's manager and staff were beyond generous, clearing a whole section of their floor space for us to use.

The Children's Program After, in Roshi's Store.

Potluck Providence: The potluck on the first Sabbath was a miracle--at least for our church. Sadly, potlucks at our little church in Saipan are known to be pretty sparse, and here we were going to feed a whole army of guests and a strictly health-friendly menu too! Well, God moved, and the church responded, providing more than enough healthy and tasty food.

The Baptisms
After two weeks of meetings, 19 people--including a whole family of eight-- decided they wanted to be baptized and join the Seventh-day Adventist church (a twentieth person was the son of one of our members). So this past Sabbath, November 3, after church under the big tent in Kagman and another potluck we came back to our side of the island to hold the baptisms on the beach near our church (the waves were too high on the eastern side of the island).

"Wade in the water. . ." The baptismal candidates get ready to take the plunge.

The candidates were baptized two at a time. That's our Pastor Eliki on the left and Pastor Duenas, the evangelist from Guam, on the right.

Back on the shore, we sang hymns intermittantly between baptisms. (If you look carefully, you'll see that my shirt is wet up to my chest. I'll explain why in my next entry!)

Having baptized 20, the pastors make a final call to for anyone else who wants to be baptized and. . .

. . .two more step up.

Our new family members.

Here's Babs and I with Ricardo and Rosemary and all their kids--all of whom got baptized. We met them last Sabbath at lunch and I had no idea they were considering becoming members. I'm looking forward to getting to know them better. And here's a big prayer request: We want to find away to offer to enroll all their kids at our school! It'll take a miracle, but miracles are God's business, right?

The two Barbaras. This woman, Barbara, has an infectious smile just like my lovely wife Babs. They hit it off right away, maybe because they have the same name. An interesting side note is that the beach area where Barbara was baptized belongs to her family. She grew up on the shores of this beach and swam in the very waters where she was baptized. I thought that was really beautiful.

Though the evangelistic effort is wrapping up, the friendships and fellowship that will grow from it will hopefully last a lifetime, and beyond.

For a critical perspective on the evangelistic series, and on "God's work" in general, check out my lastest entry at my faith issues blog, Faith Journeys.