It's time once again for one of my favorite posts of the year. I literally spend the entire preceeding year thinking about this entry and I'm so excited to be able finally bring this list online. It is such a wonderful thing to constantly be on the lookout for people who inspire you.
Perhaps some of my readers are wondering how I go about the process of choosing my heroes. I don't have a set number of slots to fill and I don't have a precise system or list of criteria I follow in choosing my heroes. My choices are not a judgement of how each person compares to other people I know. In fact, the main criteria I use in choosing my heroes is how they make me feel. At one point or another each person on my list is has made me go: "Wow! That is amazing. I want to be more like that!" When I get that feeling, I jot that name down in my pen-and-paper journal, and so the list builds throughout the year. Incidentally, because of this method, I know I'll never regret having chosen the people on my list--even if they were to somehow "change" or disappoint me in the future. The Inspirations list is about how these people inspire me now, at this moment in my life. I generally don't repeat names from year to year (otherwise Babs and the Feller would appear every year--they inspire me daily) unless something happens in relation to the person that inspires me in a whole new way. So far only one person has appeared twice on the Inspirations list-Virleshay Gayatin, who appeared once in 2007 and again in 2009.
This year's honorees include six women and one man. In the comic book world, most of the heroes tend be male. This year you could say I'm adding more Wonder Women to the rolls. Six on the list are people that I know personally, and one that, if there is any justice in this world, should only become more well known as time goes by. This year's honorees (as well those added to Inspirations lists in the years to come) will receive an invitation to attend a very special gala in Columbus in the spring of 2011, the Second Annual Heroes Reception put together by my 7th and 8th grade students and me. I know some won't be able to attend, but for those that do, it will be a very special evening.
Enough chit-chat. Let's get to the main event. Without further ado, let me introduce to you my inspirations for 2010:
Sharla Schroeder & Cyndi Rearrick
I'm inspired by her quiet generosity
We wouldn't have the life we have now if it weren't for Mom Leen. When we first arrived back from Saipan, we were dependent on my income alone and couldn't afford to rent with just what I made. She and Dad let the three of us live in their home for more almost seven months until we got on our feet. With a three hour round trip commute every day, I needed to get a car of my own right away. She lent us the money for the down payment on our new car that enabled me to get to work every day. And when Babs found a job in Columbus, and we moved, she exceeded her previous generosity even more by giving us her car. At first we thought that gift was a merely a helpful convenience, but we quickly came to recognize that it was in fact an absolute necessity. We literally could not have continued to live in Columbus without that second car. These acts of generosity, along countless other smaller gifts, all came unsolicited. Mom Leen saw a need and offered to fill it, without expectation of reward, recognition, or repayment. She gave simply out of love. Mom Leen's the sort of hero who often goes unsung. She is unassuming, avoids the spotlight, and doesn't care to draw attention to herself. She exemplifies Christ's admonition to those that would give that the right hand not know what the left hand is doing. But while she may never sing her own praises, acknowledgement of what a difference she's made in our lives is long overdue. The band U2 often extends this accolade to their fans during their concerts and I offer it to Mom as well: "Thank you for giving us a great life."
I'm inspired by her dedication
When push came to shove, Angie was there. In the darkest days of Saipan SDA School last fall, she was there to comfort, encourage, and pray with her colleagues. When the interim principal Amy Foote (a hero in her own right--see last year's Inspirations) needed a sounding board or shoulder to lean on, she was there. When the school needed a fundraiser, a facelift, a frontman, or a revamped website, she was there. She was even there to take our dog, Kimo to the beach! Last summer Angie said she wouldn't be returning to Saipan. She'd said that she'd come if she could and stay if she was able but it really didn't matter what she said. People say a lot of things. What mattered most was what she did. And what she did was show up in the trenches, doing what was needed, with her sense of humor, can-do spirit, and stalwart faith. Passion is great and commitment as admirable, but when you put the two together, you have what Angie exemplified this past year: Dedication.
A parable, paraphrased:
"What do you think? There was a Father who had a daughter. He went to her and said, 'Daughter, go and work today in the vineyard.'
" 'I will not,' she answered, but later she changed her mind and went.
"Did she do what the father wanted?"
"She did," they answered (Matthew 21:28-31)
Cyndi Rearrick & Sharla Schroeder
I'm inspired by their courage
It took more courage for Cyndi and Sharla to stay in Saipan for ten months than it did for us to stay for ten years. After all, never once in all the trials we faced as missionaries did we ever fear for our lives. They felt that sickening fear more than once last school year--when their homes were repeatedly burglarized, when one of their roommates was attacked less than a half mile from home and barely escaped. Sharla surely felt that fear when she literally struggled to keep her head above water while awaiting rescue after a freak wave swept her off a cliff on one of Saipan's rough east side beaches and into the raging sea. Were they afraid? Absolutely. Did they seriously consider throwing in the towel and going home? Undoubtedly. But courage is not the absence of fear, it is the choice to act in spite of the fear, and this past school year these two young women demonstrated remarkable courage. They stayed when everything screamed "Leave!" They stuck it out. It wouldn't have been unreasonable or dishonorable for them to say that enough was enough. Yet, somehow God gave them the will, the courage, to carry on through the tears, the anxiety, the discouragement, and the doubts. Why did they stay? Perhaps it was a sense of duty. Perhaps it was pride. My guess is it had a lot to do with a classroom of third and fourth graders who needed their teacher, seventh and eighth graders that expected Ms. Schroeder to show up for school come Monday. I bet their courage had a lot to do with love.
Just after she returned to the States this summer, I asked Sharla if she was glad she stayed. Her answer was a hard-earned, unequivocal, "Oh my, yes!"
I'm inspired by his devotion to my sister.
Jim likes to think of himself as just a regular guy, doing what regular guys do, but I'm glad to say Jim is wrong. These days men don't have such a great reputation. Our society's conventional wisdom says men are irresponsible. Unreliable. Unfaithful. They leave. The role of husband and father has fallen on hard times. But my brother-in-law Jim bucks the trend. In age of overgrown boys, he is a real man. In defiance of the societal stereotype, he is responsible, reliable, faithful. As the oldest brother I couldn't help but hope for my sister to find someone she could be happy with, some one who would love her unconditionally. Someone who would not merely like but truly treasure her. Well, Jim loves and appreciates Dawn--sees her for the rare and precious gem that she is. Jim and Dawn are just starting out on their journey together, and the road ahead will surely bring great joy and great sorrow, but their combined strength and fidelity, blessed by the God who brought them together in the first place will see them through. The world needs more men like Jim Brothers, and if little Jamie follows in his father's footsteps, the world will one day gain at least one more.
I'm inspired by her integrity
"DeepBlue" became my hero when she got in trouble. The day "DeepBlue" earned a detention--the only detention she would receive for the entire school year--was also the day she earned my respect and admiration. Ironically I can no longer recall what the exact circumstances were that lead to the disciplinary incident near the beginning of the year. What I do know is that I had questioned "DeepBlue" along with several of her classmates regarding some classroom mischief. While most of her classmates responses ran the usual gamut from wide-eyed "Who Me?" innocence to sullen denials, I was floored by "DeepBlue"'s response. "I didn't do it," she said, "but I did do something else"--and she admitted what she had done--"and I think I deserve a detention for that." This is integrity! Not to never to do wrong, but when you do wrong to step up, take up responibility, and accept the consequences. I've never been more proud of a student as I wrote out her detention letter, or more happy to speak to a parent about disciplinary action then was when I called her mom that night. As the school year continued I would learn that this kind of integrity is the hallmark of "DeepBlue's" character. She's a hard worker, has a great attitude, is consistently respectful, and carries herself with remarkable dignity. What I hope to teach my students--responsibility, respect, and a positive attitude--"DeepBlue" already understands. Indeed, I learned from her.
I'm inspired by her authenticity
Under the hot glare of the media spotlight, in noise of the 24-7 reality TV junkyard, it's not just her talent that's rare. I'm not so foolish as to claim to know what Crystal Bowersox is really like. I don't know her personally. All I've seen of her is her weekly appearances on last season's American Idol. Somehow--so far--she has survived the numbing, homegenizing starmaking machinery and emerged as someone different, someone unique. While her fellow contestants ranged from needy self-doubt to premature arrogance, she projected a remarkable mix of confidence and humility. While others struggled to figure who they were artistically, Crystal already knew. She exhibited compassion for her fallen competitiors and grace in her seemingly ineveitable victories. In an age when the ever-present eye of the camera seems to reveal increasingly false personas, physically, emotionally, and spiritually--where everything and everyone it seems, is an act, Crystal came across as refreshingly real. And of course she could sing everyone else under the table. Each week last spring, I was looked forward to seeing her on TV, not only for the original take on her song for that week, but to see something you don't see much any more on television (or, sadly, in real life)--a person with authenticity as real as her talent. She didn't win in the end, but if she is anything like what we saw in her performances, whether her star continues to rise or fades from public view, she will continue to shine to those for whom she is not merely a star but a daughter, mother, friend. As for this fan, I'll gladly buy a ticket if I get a chance to see Crystal Bowersox live in concert. After all, isn't it always great when you get a chance to see the real thing?