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.
Russ & Kanae Quinn
Mai Rhea Odiyar
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Interference.com. 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.
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.