At the airport at the end of a year watching last years crop of teachers leave—yeah, we were sad, but deep inside it felt good to be standing there in our zorries and shorts, then ambling easily back to the car in the tropical sunlight knowing that we were the lucky ones. We got to stay.
Coming back from summer break in the States to a house a bit musty from the summer absence. Getting used to the humidity and the heat again. Taking the wide-eyed new teachers on the standard First-Day-in-Saipan circuit—the DMV for cool new Saipan driver’s licences, the bank, the health clinic. Pointing out all the familiar points of interest and necessity—“there’s the library, there’s Joeten where we do most of our shopping, the church is down there.” Feeling knowledgeable and wise. Like an old hand.
Everything is familiar, everywhere you go you see faces you know. You know the ropes. How things work. How to get things done, island-style.
In our final three years in Saipan, all the pieces seemed to come together, and finally, we came into our own golden age.
It was a golden age of teaching.
Some time during the middle of the 2006-2007 school year I finally got it. It’s not that I finally figured out how to teach—that’s a lifelong journey, not a destination. What I finally figured out is that I loved teaching, and I especially loved teaching at the Saipan Seventh-day Adventist School. For years, I’d been waiting for the life I’d dreamed of to start. I always figured I’d leave SDA eventually, maybe start up my own business (the traditional kind), maybe try to write the Great American Novel or break into the movie business. But one day I woke up and realized I was living that dream life right now. I had the best job in the world, teaching the best kids in the world. There was nowhere else in I’d rather be. That change in perspective changed the way I taught too. Now I approached every lesson with fire and enthusiasm, no matter how unremarkable the topic. I’d always hoped to make my lessons interesting, but now my very tone of voice suggested that this was vital, exciting stuff. I feel like some the best teaching of my career has been in the past three years.
It was a golden age of the active life.
My sister calls it the “big life.” It began with those evening runs with Vince, Monica, JohnMo, and the others and it grew from there. In 2006, with the arrival of the Rockstars--Grant Graves, Britni Gleason, Missy Chamberlain, Layla Cole, Mai Rhea Odiyar, Jari Carmona, and Heather Tucker, I began to wake up the infinite possibilities for an active lifestyle to be found in Saipan. For much of my time in Saipan I was holed up either in my classroom slaving away, or at home napping away the Sabbath afternoons and doing. . .well, now I can’t remember what I used to do on Sundays. Work, I guess? Grant was in large part responsible for getting me out there. Until he arrived I didn’t realize what I was missing, a pal that I could go hacking into the jungle with, riding around the island, working out at the gym. I have him to thank for really introducing me to the “big life.” In addition to island fun, the big life took me to Japan for unforgettable two days to see U2 live in concert and to Singapore with the 8th grade class trip.
In 07-08, I made the active life my own. Grant was gone but I carried on. That was the year I got recertified to dive, started running seriously (did my first Turkey Trot that Thanksgiving), and even tried a little rock climbing. That year it was the 4Runners--Mai, Judith, and Jess--that spurred me to greater heights of active life. This past year, I’ve continued to stay active, running with Nicole, Rhonda, and Jaimie, and diving with the Piersons. I hope that living the big life won’t be just an island thing, and that I’ll make the rest of my life one of activity.
It was a golden age of friendships.
During the past few years we’ve poured the foundations for relationships that have set, hardened into solid friendships that I believe will last a lifetime. Carol Paez became Barbara’s closest friend on Saipan, and her family became like family to us. Our Thanksgiving dinners at our house and Christmas Eve parties at hers became traditions we eagerly anticipated each year. The only reason we could bear the thought of the Paez tribe leaving Saipan is that we would be leaving too. We always imagined we’d leave together on the same day, on the same flight, but though that was not to be, we’ll be there in spirit to see them off. And come November, we’ll keep our Thanksgiving dinner tradition—though this time we’ll go to her place in Portland.
Grant Graves reminded me of the reward of male friendship—something I hadn’t realized I’d missed over the many years where I was often the only man on staff. His quick mind, taste for adventure, and spiritual gravity inspired and encouraged me. I feel pretty confident I’ve made a friend for life in Grant. Now that we’re both on the same side of the Pacific, I have a feeling there will be new adventures to come. It’s really about time I gave that guy a call.
The 4Runners—Judith Edwards, Jessica Lee, and Mai Rhea Odiyar—and Bev Cabanatan made the 2007-2008 school year truly special. With the 4Runners: dive classes, early morning runs, rock climbing, the Suicide Cliff run, and of course that unforgettable last day before they left are memories I’ll always treasure. Bible studies at Bev’s, Diving in Palau with Jess and Bev, running the Turkey Trot with Mai and Bev stand out too. Fortunately, while we are miles apart now, each living our own lives, the friendship remains. I never know when I’ll text Jess or Judith on a whim and get a friendly reply. I always appreciate Mai’s regular Facebook messages and Journal comments, and I look forward to the occasional phone call now that she’s also back in North America. Babs and I are excited to see Bev too in just a few weeks when we’ll stay with her a few days in San Francisco.
The Piersons have been wonderful friends. Whether it was the serious business of the church, school, or clinic or the lighthearted fun of a dive, a run, or a nice dinner together, Ken and Crystal have always been there. Unfailingly positive, always supportive, they made our work easier and our play so much more fun. Ken and I’s training for the San Francisco marathon ended up being some especially rewarding times. We look forward to seeing them later this summer in California and Florida, and we intend to make sure that more opportunities to reconnect with the Piersons happen in the years to come.
And last and most important of all, it was a golden age of new life.
One Little Feller brought the most golden of moments, and at the same time, by his arrival set the clock running down on our time in Saipan. Elijah William Maycock came into our life on Sunday afternoon, August 31, 2008 and nothing’s been the same since. From that ecstatic moment in February of last year when we realized he was on his way, he has stolen our hearts. Once we knew Elijah was coming, I always said (though I didn’t really believe it)—“I don’t know what we’ll do about staying in Saipan once he’s born. He’ll tell us what to do.” And he did. Last November, Barbara came to two clear revelations. One, that Elijah needed to know his grandparents, especially his grandfather who’d waited 85 years for him; and two, that she wanted to raise her son, and she couldn’t do that and be principal as effectively as she’d like. And so the golden moment Elijah brought spelled the end of our time in Saipan. And you know what? That’s okay. He’s worth it. He’s a gift from God, and if God calls us to focus on caring for the child He’s given, then it will all be okay.
Elijah with his Auntie Vero. She loved him before he was born and came up to see him in the flesh in December of 2008.
You all know that Elijah has dominated our final year in Saipan—heck, he’s got his own blog! Surrounded by a team of devoted aunties starting with Veronyka Perez, who showered him with love while he was yet in the womb, and then carried on by Amy Foote, Andrea Stafford, Rhonda & Jaimie, Virle, Joeie, Girlie, and Venus, our son has never lacked for love.
I could go on at length about these last golden years, but then again, it’s all here. Because the golden age was also the age of the Journal Online, and it’s all been chronicled in these pages.
Looking back, I see how God has led, how He has blessed, how He has showered us with His grace and love. My heart is full with gratitude for the gift of our eleven years in Saipan. And knowing His provision in the past, helps me face the future,with hope and joy.
“’For I know the plans I have the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you a future and a hope.’”
Jeremiah 29: 11