May 28, 2008

Suicide Monday

Ready for Suicide! (In a good way. . .We're ready to run from the Last Command Post at the base of Suicide Cliff to the top. From left to right, Me, Mai, Judith, and Jessica).

Ever since we conquered Mt. Tapochau on Thanksgiving Day last year, our little running group has planned to take on the other major uphill run to be found on Saipan--Suicide Cliff.

This past Monday morning, May 26, we finally did it. Judith, Jessica, Mai, and myself headed out to the north end of Saipan to to run to the top of Suicide Cliff. The run turned out to be much shorter--Mai, finished first in 37 minutes, with Jessica and I right behind--and much harder than I expected. The run is not a continuous incline, but the hills and switchbacks come one right after the other. It was a tough run! Nonetheless, it was rewarding and I'm glad we did it. We're planning to do it again this Sunday, and I'm thinking I may add "Suicide Mondays" to my summer routine, running to the top of the cliff every Monday.

Running lately has been really rewarding. This morning we did the beach pathway run for the first time in awhile and I was amazed by how easy it's become. This was Vince Asanuma and I's old running haunt and I remember the days when a run from Kilili Beach to the old Japanese tank and back (our standard Beach Road pathway run) could be a killer. But for the past few months we've been running the hills near our house--the "Little Loop", the "Medium Loop" and the five mile plus "Big Loop" (which I ran alone, for the first time, Saturday night in preparation for Suicide Monday) and so returning to the level ground and relatively short distance of the Beach pathway was a breeze! I feel like I've really improved as a runner and am in better shape than I've ever been in my life. It's a good feeling.

The View from the top of Suicide Cliff. It's a beautiful view from a tragic place. Suicide Cliff earned it's name because this is where thousands of Japanese civilians jumped to their deaths in the summer of 1944 at the end of the Battle of Saipan. They had been led to believe that they would be tortured and worse by the American soldiers, and figured death by suicide was a better way to go.

Here's Mai, me, and Jessica at the end of our run on the railing at the edge of Suicide Cliff.

Here we are, all together at the top.

Riki was our photographer and cheerleader on the run. Here she is striking a pose.

Some video of the run:

Here we are warming up at the Last Command Post.

Riki caught this video of us when were acutally getting pretty close to the top.

Here we are finishing the run at the top. Exhausting but exhilarating!

Breakfast at the Beach

The view from here. . .

Me n' Babs

A few months ago Babs and I decided to start having a weekly date. It's something that we've talked about doing for years, and this year, with little Elijah soon to arrive and alter our lives forever, we decided it might be a good idea to set a precedent of a date night before he's born so we'll already be in the habit by the time he arrives. So Sunday evening has become "date night." If we've got a lot of money, we might go out for dinner, if we've got a little we might go out for coffee (technically coffee for me and ice water for Babs as she's on strict no-caffeine, no-sugar pregnancy diet), if we've got no money, we might just stay in and curl up with a good movie from Netflix. We've done everything from window shop to going for a nice walk together. Well, on some Sundays the evenings are taken up so we move the date to another part of the day. Such was the case last Sunday. With our book club scheduled for Sunday evening, we decided to have our date in the morning. We decided to have breakfast on the beach.

We stocked up the picnic basket and headed down to one of Saipan's most beautiful beaches, located about five minutes from our house behind the Aquarius Beach Tower hotel. We enjoyed a quiet couple hours at the beach, enjoying a tasty picnic breakfast and then taking a relaxing dip in the brilliant blue sea. It was a perfect way to start the week!

Breakfast was cereal with peaches and milk (for me), oatmeal (for Babs), buttered toast and jam, vegetarian breakfast patties, orange juice, and some leftover lumpia from Sabbath potluck.

The water is so beautiful here; there's very little seaweed at this beach so the white sand stretches from the beach and out into the water. The funny thing about this beach though is that it's most beautiful when you're looking out towards the ocean. Turn around and you see this:

That's the back of Blockbuster Video on the left; the Aquarius Beach Tower is off-camera a couple hundred yards to the right.

Shabbat Meal

Our Bible study group gathers for a final Shabbat meal with Bev before our last study together, Friday, May 16, 2008. From left, clockwise (Amy, Bev, Mai, Judith, one of the Paez kids, Carol, Riki, Ken, Crystal, Jessica, "Little Sister", and Babs).

For her last Friday night in Saipan, May 16, Bev requested that our Bible study group have a special meal together reflecting the Jewish tradition. So we all researched various types of Jewish cuisine and Judith and Mai studied up on some of the traditional ways of welcoming the Sabbath in the Jewish faith.

The food was fantastic: a delicious Mediterranean stew, sweet noodles, potatoe pancakes, an eggplant dish, hummus and pita bread, homemade Challah bread, and lots of pure grape juice. We ate so much that by the time it was time for our Bible study (we've been studying the 28 fundamental beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church every Friday night all school year) half our group was falling asleep! It wasn't much of a study but the fellowship and food still made for a memorable and special evening.

This blog and these photos are mainly for my friend "Yolland", one of my online aquaintances over at who provided me with half a dozen or so mouthwatering recipes reflecting her unique Sephardic Jewish heritage-- melding the flavors of the southern U.S. where she was raised and Mediterranean tastes of her family background. Unfortunately I wasn't able to use any of those recipes, as the power went off that Friday afternoon in the two hours prior to the meal and I was unable to print them off my computer. Still I thought she'd enjoy some photos of some "Jewish-like" Christians celebrating the arrival of another precious Sabbath day.

Hope you enjoy, "Yolland" and thanks again for the recipes. I will definitely make them all eventually and report to you how they turned out!

Babs about to light the Sabbath candles.

Judith reads a traditional Sabbath blessing.

Mai reads a blessing for the bread (which she made from scratch!)

Mai breaks the bread.

May 18, 2008


Ah, Bev. . .we miss you already!

It's official. Bubbles is no longer in paradise. And paradise won't be quite the same without her. Yesterday, Bev, who worked at the SDA Clinic as dental hygienist for almost two years took the Long Walk and flew away for good, back to the Mainland.

Right now, though, it almost feels as if she's still here. I can't really believe that she's gone for good--that she hasn't just gone away for one of her cool dive trips or for a few days with friends in Guam. My heart wants to believe I'll still see her in church on Sabbath, hear her trademark laugh at REAL rehearsal, or trade ideas at Bible study on Friday night.

A lot of people come and go on Saipan and each makes his or her unique mark, but Bev seemed to make an extra big splash. Just about everyone on Saipan, it sometimes seemed, knew Bev and counted her a friend. What is it about Bev that enables her to win the hearts of practically everyone she meets? Perhaps it's her bright smile, or her friendly nature--her generally cheery personality that made her nickname "Bubbles" seem more than just a scuba diving reference. But there's more to Bev than the bubbles; the one word I keep coming back to is open-hearted. Bev had an open heart. In her friendships, as in her blog, Bev has a certain openness and humility about her. I think that open-heartedness really drew us all to her. At first glance, you'll see the bubbles of Bev's personality, but follow those bubbles to their source and you'll find a heart that beats strong and soulful, a person inhaling all she can from life and exhaling joy and struggle, smiles and tears, hurt and healing, faith and doubt, strength and vulnerability.

"California here she comes, right back where she started from. . ." California, I hope you know how lucky you are to get her.

Love you, Bev!

Bev and me in Palau last weekend, kidding around after our last performance of A Song from the Heart. Bev played the rich mother of Lina, the spoiled villain of the story. Our characters had a really fun arguing scene during the play (which we are jokingly reinacting here). My favorite line of hers: "You must be insane!"

Bev crushed by adoring fans. This photo was taken at the end of our last Bible study Friday night, May 16, 2008.

Friends and fellow REAL teammates: "Little Sister" and Bev.

On Saturday night, May 17, friends Mark and Tammy had a going away party for Bev at their lovely home. That's when this photo was taken.

At the airport, Sunday morning, May 18--the goodbyes begin. Everyone wanted a picture with Bev. A few of those "Last Pictures" above (Vero and Bev) and below.

Bev & Jess

Bev and the Paez's

Our turn! Babs and I with Bev. Thanks for the friendship and lots of fun memories, Bev! Let's keep in touch!

Bev's Long Walk (note the Walk has gotten shorter, as they've moved the immigration booths closer since last year).

Palau Tour 2008: "Finishing Strong"

The REAL team at the start. We gather for final instructions just before our first show in Palau at Palau Mission Academy, Friday, May 9, 2008. Clockwise from left, Me, "J", "The Treasurer", "CK Girl", and "J2".

This year's REAL performances in Palau were all about the strong finish. It seemed like our school and church shows on Friday got off to unsteady starts. The kids talked too fast andhustled through the skits without fire or flare. The audience was appreciative but uncomprehending. But about halfway through each of our programs, we seemed to catch fire and come alive. At our school shows it was usually during our Just for Fun segment--a comedic sketch called "Remotely Entertaining" in which each actor represents a TV channel with hilarious results ensuing as the channels are "changed" through the skit. A sample from the skit:

Ms. Foufou, French teacher (played by Mai): "And next week our guest will be the our district suprintendent who is--"
Granny Gabalot, storyteller (played by "Little Sister"):" the ugliest creature on the pond had turned into a beautiful--"
Canadian Cowboy (played by me): "pile of manure. After that experience I learned to always carry my--"
Television Dentist, (played by Bev): "Toothbrush."

This skit always brings down the house and it did in Palau as well. From there the actors were fired up and the audience was with us as we continued the progam. At our high school show we followed this one with our take on the parable of the unforgiving servant entitled "Chopsticks." This is a REAL classic, and in fact we presented it last time we were in Palau in 2006. This time though, we decided to present it with a twist--we did the whole thing in Chinese! There's a large population of Chinese students attending Palau Mission Academy. They're there primarily to learn English so we knew they'd appreciate hearing one of our skits in their own language. "CK Girl" and Judy, who are both Chinese Koreans and are, of course, fluent in Chinese performed "Chinese Chopsticks" and the audience--English speakers and Chinese speakers alike loved it! The funniest part was on the final line of the play, "CK Girl" switched back to English by accident! And she didn't even realize she'd switched languages! The audience (and all of us on the REAL team) were cracking up and Judy is shouting from offstage, "Chinese, Chinese. . ." and "CK Girl" couldn't figure out why! The audience enjoyed the skit so much that we went ahead and the did the English version as well. By the time we finished with "The Treasurer's" beautiful little monologue about the nature of true beauty, we were at our best.

I play the role of the Candaian cowboy in "Remotely Entertaining"

Looks like they're having fun: Our audience engaged during our show at PMA.

For our church shows, the strong finish began with "One Minute" a short sketch on the importance of making each moment count, and gained power through "The Way We Pray", a sketch on the different ways we talk to God (and often fail to listen to Him). By the time we reached the musical conclusion of the sketch, with "J" playing guitar and singing in "Amazing Love" in her pure and gentle voice, and then the rest of us joining her on stage singing with her, and inviting the audience to do the same we could all sense of the power of God's presence in the room. From there we went into a simple recitation of scripture in readers theater format entitled "For God So Loved" to end the show. As simple and as unadorned as this presentation was, I found it often to be the most powerful element of our show. My favorite part was the last where Bev recited the beautiful promise in the eighth chapter of Romans that "nothing can sepreate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus." Something about the way she spoke those promises, something real and heartfelt in her voice always moved me, and our audiences as well.

Sabbath afternoon, May 10, we were invited to perform at Palau's prison. The audience was very small, but deeply appreciative. It was a really special show. Here, I'm introducing the program to the inmates.

This photo and the next four are scenes from our sketch, "The Way We Pray." Here's Bev trying to impress God with a fancy, King James style-prayer. She eventually gets lost in all her thees and thous and gives up. After she (and the other actors that follow) leaves the stage, God (who was voiced offstage throughout the sketch by me) says sadly, "there is so much more I wanted to tell you."

"J2" prays the slacker prayer. She ends up showing God a list of wants she's written down before finishing her prayer. Sample lines: "Right now my car is a Chevette--can you make it like NOT a Chevette? Any other car will do" and "I'd like to lift my mom up to you and ask you to. . .get her off my back!"

"Little Sister" does the whiney, weepy are-You--even-listening prayer of complaint. God tries to comfort her but she leaves rather than staying around to listen.

Judy struggles to stay awake while praying. This one was all too familiar to me!

Finally, our last actor, "J" gets it right as she talks honestly and plainly to God and most important of all, takes the time to be still and listen to His gentle, still small voice. She ends with a simple song of praise.

It wasn't just our shows that finished strong. It was our tour as a whole. We capped our weekend of performances with "CK Girl's" play, A Song from the Heart, Saturday night, May 10. It was easily the best performance of that play we've done yet. Before the play even began we sensed God was with us in a special way. Obstacles would pop up--the karoke mic wasn't working, the music CD wouldn't play--and just as quickly were resolved. We were praying hard and seeing answers left and right. The play itself, was remarkable. "J" like "Harry" last year in Bridge to Terabithia took her performance to a whole new level--shedding real tears on stage during one of the most dramatic moments of the play. I was so proud of her as I know that it wasn't easy for her to access that kind of emotion. And at the end "The Treasurer" who plays the "villain" Lina, who is ultimately won over by the forgiving love of Amy (played by "J") cried as well, during the final scene. They were tears of joy, I think, because she'd come along way to reach this point in her tiem with REAL. I was so proud of "J" and "the Treasurer" and all of the girls on our team. Without question they finished the season strong!

On this trip to Palau I learned that it's not how you start, but how you finish that matters most of all. The audience won't remember the rocky take-off; they will remember the smooth landing. By the grace of God we finished well in Palau. I pray we do so in life too.

Here I am with "CK Girl" after our final show of the tour, a fantastic performance of her play A Song From the Heart, Saturday night, May 10. I'm so proud of her! Unfortunately we didn't have any pictures of the play as everyone on the team was in it and Barbara was taking video for me.

A few random pictures from our weekend in Palau.

I preached the sermon at the Airai church in Palau Sabbath morning, May 10. The man on my left is the pastor of the church who translated for me.

A cool picture of Mai and Jessica jumping into the channel between Airai and Koror islands on Sunday night, May 11. They enjoyed their nighttime swim right before we left for Saipan and Babs and I had fun watching them.

May 16, 2008

Palau Tour 2008: " Expectations"

"I'm Doing Okay. . ." better than expected in fact! Diving in Palau before the start of our round of peformances. Thursday, May 8, 2008

A gorgeous shot of a little fish in Palau courtesy of Bev's underwater camera

Well, we are back from our annual REAL Christian Theater tour--this year we performed in Palau--the fourth time the team has toured there, though technically for everyone except "CK Girl" and me this was everyone's first REAL trip there. For excellent chronological accounts of the weekend with lots of great photos check out Mai's blog or Bev's blog.

In my next two entries I'll be focusing on a couple aspects of this tour that stuck with me. For this entry, my emphasis is "expectations."

Expectations are a funny thing. Sometimes when you've built up grand expectations in your mind, the experience itself seems less than stellar. And often when you're least expecting it, you are surprised by an experience that sails long past your ordinary expectations. I'm finding that there is more joy to be found in embracing the actual experience than in savoring expectations that often disappoint.

In many ways our 2008 tour to Palau was very much about expectations and their collapse. Our last tour to Palau two years ago was so magical, so remarkable in every respect that I fully expected this one to be even better. And it's not that this tour was worse--it was just different. Different than I expected.

First there was the diving. I arrived in Palau, my head full of promises of an unparalleled diving experience--a once in a lifetime, sublime underwater fantasy. And I knew from past experience how amazing mere snorkeling had been in Palau. I expected diving would take that experience to new heights. . .er, depths.

But. . .

The weather was bad (more on that in just a minute) and we couldn't get outside the lagoon to all the legendary sites. Instead we dove just minutes from the marina. The day was overcast, the visibility underneath was limited and dreary. We saw a lot, but it wasn't what we expected. For me however, these dives were the best I've had so far, but not in the way I expected. I feel like I finally turned a corner, finally began to be comfortable underwater. My air consumption improved dramatically (though the fat 100tank surely helped) and I finally felt like I was holding my own and not dragging the rest of the group down. For the first time I surfaced eager to dive again instead of being relived it was over. On these two dives I finally, unexpectedly began to feel at home underwater. My two dives in Palau weren't at all what I expected, in both the good and bad ways.

Suiting up for the dive

My dive buddies: Mai, Bev, & Jessica

Lunchtime! Since we were so close to the dock, they just brought us back to the dive shop for lunch instead of picinicing on a rock island. We ate heartily and then promptly. . .

Fell asleep! This naptime was not staged. We really were asleep when Bev snapped this picture. After a nice nap we headed back out to dive a sunken World War II era Japanese ship!

The four of us pose for for a group shop just above the sunken ship. From left to right that's Mai, Me, Jessica, & Bev--I think. (As you can see it was too murky to get any real decent pictures of the ship as a whole, though Bev has some gorgeous shots of the coral gardens that festoon the every nook and cranny of the ship).

I wasn't the only one with expectations that ran crash-bang into reality. The students in Palau had raised their excitement to fever pitch in expectation of our coming. They remembered the bevy of beautiful actresses and clutch of cool and funny guys from two seasons ago and somehow I think they expected all of those people to come back. Imagine their shock when they saw three young girls--the oldest an 8th gradeer come off the plane Wednesday night? Someone told me they actually overheard someone say "Is that really them?" Our girls took it all in stride. They thought it a great joke than instead of the fantasy girls and stage heroes of 2006 the high school aged fans had been expecting, they got the too-young-for-dating girls of 2008! Perhaps this year's team of intrepid girls knew they'd win hearts of their own. And indeed they did. By Friday thye'd already been treated to lunch by a group of friendly 8th grade girls from the Palau Adventist Elementary School. Rather than basking in the leftover glory of team's past, our girls carved their own in places in the hearts and memories of Palau. They left their own unique and unexpected mark.

The 2006 REAL team in Palau and. . .

. . . .this year's much younger and all-girl REAL team 2008. Only "CK Girl", second from left in this photo and directly below me in the 06 photo was on both teams.

Our REAL team with new friends in Palau on Sunday, May 11, 2008.

Palau itself confounded our expectations. My last trip to Palau had been a journey through a wonderland of God's most beautiful creation--brilliant blue skies, crystalline waters, the rock islands. This time, a passing typhoon left us with torrents of rain, somber gray skies, and rough water beyond the reef that made a rock island tour impossible.

Sunday was a quiet day of simple pleasures we might just as easily have found at home in Saipan. But we were together, bonding as a team, enjoying time with our Palauan friends, finding fun where we could and creating memories we'll treausre. And we were also saving a ton of money. I had expected a rock island tour would cost us nothing beyond a $50-$70 donation for gas--so you can imagine my shock when I discovered that the church would require a $300 deposit to go out on the boat--and most of that deposit we wouldn't get back as a typical fuel cost for a day out the rock islands ran upwards of $250! We'd also have to pay $35 per person to see Jellyfish Lake! I certainly hadn't planned to spend that kind of money and yet probably would have spent it anyway, out of my own pocket so the kids wouldn't miss the classic rock island experience. So perhaps, for the sake of the financial viability of the team (and me!), perhaps it was just as well that the weather was what it was.
Rock Islands up close and in bright sunshine in 2006 and. . .

. . .Rock Islands from a distance and shrouded in rain in 2008.

Boat shot, 2006.

Boat shot, 2008
And the kids did get a Palauan experience that no one else ever had. On Thursday, May 8 while Mai, Bev, Jessica and me were diving, Babs & Veronyka took the team to Dolphin Pacific, an open water dolphin park, and they got to see, touch, and swim with dolphins. From what I've heard that experience exceeded their wildest expectations and I'm glad for that.

"The Treasurer" takes a ride with one of the dolphins at Dolphin Pacific, Palau. Thursday, May 8, 2008.

Here's the reality. In life we actually never really know what to expect. Often we'd like to think we do know exactly how things are going to shake out for us, whether good or bad, but the truth is we really don't know at all what the next day, month, or year--or even minute--holds for each of us. So perhaps its better to spend less time in expectation of the future, and more time fully experiencing the right now.

"I'm jumping in the rain, I'm jumping in the rain, what a glorious feeling, I'm happy again!" Bev, Jessica, and Mai didn't let altered expectations dampen their mood! (Photo taken Sunday morning, May 11, 2008 after a torrential rainstorm aborted our planned morning run).