Aug 15, 2011

The Fifth Annual Inspirations List: 2011

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Philippians 23: 3,4

As I was jotting down some notes in my pen-and-paper journal in preparation for the fifth annual Inspirations List, I noticed this passage of scripture printed in the margins of my journal and I realized that it described the five women on my list perfectly.

My slate of heroes this year all share in common an unselfish humility, and they made their mark on my life through their remarkable attention to the needs and concerns of others.  I'm sure they have their selfish moments like anyone, but I saw them at their finest--giving and caring when it didn't come easy.

One hero, Keisha Paez, has the distinction of becoming only the second person to have made this list twice.  Another, Faith Grant is notable as the first person to make the list whose heroic act did not take place in the last year.  Bunnie is a colleague,  "The Rose" a former student, and Carrie, I only met once.  All have inspired me by doing good when it could not have been easy.

The List:

Bunnie James-Mason
"The Rose"
Keisha Paez
Carrie Oetman
Faith Grant

Bunnie James-Mason
I’m inspired by her sacrificial service

Bunnie makes us all look
good.  She works tirelessly behind the scenes to make sure that everything at CAA runs smoothly, and in the process she makes us all shine a little brighter.  I’m able to teach an exciting social studies lesson because of the prep time I had during lunch while Bunnie was watching my kids in the cafeteria.  Mrs. Arthurs, the principal, is able to attend an important meeting that results in more funding for our school because Bunnie was covering bus supervision.  The 8th grade students were able to boast record profits for their class due to her quiet and faithful help and support.   It’s not just that Bunnie works hard.  It’s not that she works long hours.  It’s not even that what she does is often taken for granted by us teachers¸ so wrapped up are we in our classrooms.  It’s that she does all this—endless round of duties, the full workweek and often Sundays too, the thankless tasks like lunchroom supervision—for others.  We teachers are the vehicle that carries our students forward, and if the principal is the driver, the board and education superintendent the navigator, then Bunnie is the engine.  Though her work often goes unseen, without her none of us would get very far.

Bunnie, you’ve always held the spotlight for us.  Allow me to shine a little of that light back on you.  Thank you for all you do.

 "The Rose"
I’m inspired by her compassionate helpfulness
She’s one of those young women who always takes care of her business.   This past year, her last at CAA, she often talked more than she should, but always managed to stay out of serious trouble.  She wasn’t always “on-task” but her work was always done on time.   "The Rose" did not suffer fools gladly nor tolerate foolishness from her peers.  Yes, "The Rose" was careful never to make a show of it, but she always made sure she did what needed to be done.  And yet, "The Rose" didn’t look out only for her own interests, but also for the interests of others.   Many times over the course of the year I watched her pull up a chair next to a struggling classmate to help him or her through some tough math problems.  I saw her volunteer to partner up with a peer she knew would need extra help.  For all her no-nonsense demeanor I saw "The Rose" demonstrate real compassion to those around her without expectation of recognition or reward.  Indeed I think the last thing she wanted was reward (and I’m hoping she’ll at least tolerate the recognition I’m giving her!)  You see "The Rose" was simply taking care of her business—it just happened that she made it her business to help those in need.

Keisha Paez
I’m inspired by her courageous honesty

Not many people have the courage to recognize that it’s more important to tell the truth than to look honest.  But then Keisha has never been like many people. Keisha has graced this list before—she was one of my first heroes in my inaugural Inspirations list five years ago, and she’s back demonstrating that her remarkable courage has a moral as well as physical dimension.   During the final weeks of her Officer Training School for the United States Marine Corps, Keisha got caught up in an incident that placed her in tough position.  She could tell the truth and risk her reputation and possibly her place in the Corps, or she could lie and slide by looking honorable.  Keisha chose to tell the truth, and faced the consequences—the end of her dream of being one of the few and the proud.  It took guts and honor to make a decision like that—just the characteristics any good Marine should have.  Perhaps that’s why the Corp considered her appeal of the decision and allowed her to re-enlist and go through training all over again.  As I write this, Keisha is finishing up her officer training for the second time and if you ask me she’ll make an outstanding Marine.  After all, Keisha personifies the Marine Corps’ motto: Semper Fi—Always Faithful.

Carrie Oetman
I'm inspired by her selflessness


It's easy to lend a hand from a positon of strength.  When our wallets are full, our health good, when we're in a good mood, when we've had a decent night's sleep, it doesn't take much to be magnanimous and pass on the overflow of our good humor to those around us.  But it takes a rare person to give to other when you're already giving what feels like 100% just to put one foot in front of the other.  Carrie Oetman is one of those rare people, and I was privileged to witness her selfless spirit during the 2011 Disney Princess Half Marathon this past Februrary. 

I met Carrie through my cousin Yvette, and I ran with both women the entire length of the half-marathon. Throughout the run I was awestruck by the many little ways that Carrie looked outside herself even while pushing herself farther physically than she'd ever thought possible.   She did not allow her personal struggle to eclipse the needs of those around her, and instead put her pain on hold to a lend a hand.  What made her completion of the race that day heroic was not merely what she overcame, but what she offered to those along the way.  The next time I'm tempted to grow weary in well-doing, I'll think of Carrie, and well, carry on!

Faith Grant
I'm inspired by her generous spirit

How much does it cost to change the course of someone's life?  In the case of my high school chum Faith it cost her $400 and her expenditure changed the course of my entire life.  It's been more than 15 years since she drummed up those funds to donate towards my effort to raise money to go as a student missionary.  Faith, though she was only a high school student at the time, was the single largest donor to my campaign and without her gift I would have not raised enough money to go teach fifth grade for a year on the little island of Chuuk.  If I had not gone to Chuuk, I would never have met my wife. I would not have become a teacher.  I would never have visited or likely even heard of Saipan.  Without that watershed year my life, my very self would be completely unrecognizable.  To this day, I have no idea how Faith did it--whether she passed the hat around, tapped a rich relative, or simply emptied her savings account.  I was perhaps more amazed by her willingness to give as I was by her ability. 

I've always given credit to God for leading me that life-changing year in Chuuk, and this is right.  But I've come to recognize that He--as He often does--used one of His beloved children to get me there. In light of that, there's no question that Faith should have been on my original list of the 65 Influential People in My Life, but I'm happy to remedy that now.

It's been years since I've spoken to Faith.  I see her on Facebook and every now and again we exchange messages.  I remember during the Haiti earthquake she was working to raise funds to get the daughter of a friend out of Haiti. I donated of course--how could I not? I was touched to see that Faith is still changing lives one dollar--or four hundred--at a time.

Aug 3, 2011

The Books to Read List

I'm finally shutting down my Maycock Media Mix blog.  I haven't used it in years and to be honest, I don't think I'll ever get back to it.  This entry marks the first of occasional entries that would have previously gone in that blog.

One of the highlights of the summer is being able to do a little more leisure reading.  Most years I have had pretty good luck and discovered a really great slate of books.  This year though, my luck ran out.  Normally, I just scan the display shelves at the library and pick up a few titles that sound interesting based on the blurb on the book jacket.  I used the same mehtod this summer, and found the results lackluster.

I read This Vacant Paradise by Victoria Patterson which was ho-hum and Model Home by Eric Puchner which was well-written but rather dispiriting.  Gone, Tomorrow by P.F. Kluge was better, though I found the ending unsatisfying. Perhaps I was expecting a major twist that never really came.  I then started in on Sing Them Home by Stephanie Kallos and gave up after one chapter.  It wasn't uninteresting, but one of the conceits of the book was that the dead hang out at the cemetery, do arcane experiments, observe the living and perhaps other things that I didn't discover before I gave up on the book.  Theology wasn't the issue--I don't believe in spirits of the dead and such but I'm more than willing to suspend disbelief as I did for the excellent The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. For me the device of these quirky spirits of the dead felt overly cute.   Even the living characters struck me as a tad too eccentric to be really relatable.  Worse than that, the book failed to grab my interest early on.  I didn't have the patience to stick with it. 

I scanned a few of the pages of C.J. Sansom's Winter in Madrid and abandoned it as well. 

I've decided that as busy I am--even in the summer--I can't afford a trial and error approach to my leisure reading.  I need to be reasonably certain that the book I'm going to read is going to be very good before I start reading.  A book that was 'alright' just isn't good enough anymore.

What I've found is that I'll come across a book review in TIME magazine that sounds good or
someone will recommend a title to me, but then when it comes time to find a book to read, I've forgotten those titles.  So what I'm going to do is start a public list here on this blog of the books I'd like to read.  Once I've read the book, I'll link back to this post and edit it to include a short review.

I'd like to invite my readers to suggest great books that they've read--fiction or non-fiction--that they think I'd enjoy.  Just make your recommendations in the comments section and I'll consider adding it to my list.  Also feel free to comment on the books I add to my list whether to warn me away from a title or to encourage my interest.
Books to Read

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
War & Peace by Leo Tolstoy (I'm about 2/3 finished.  I'm determined to finish)
Breaking the Skin by Lee Martin
The Autobiography of Tom Thumb: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin

Aug 2, 2011

Florida Family Vacation Photos

The Maycock family portrait, 2011
Sabbath was about pictures.  Late in the afternoon, we headed out to a small lakeside park in the tony neighborhood of Winter Park, FL to take our annual family photos.  Dawn, the designated family photographer, decreed the year's color scheme, chose the location, and set up the shots.  Some of the photos (and candids) from that session are posted here.

But my favorite pictures of the day, were the ones I painted in my imagination earlier that afternoon as I listened to the stories of my family.  Uncle Roland and Aunt Colleen came over for lunch and during the meal and in the lazy hours after they regaled us with tales of  adventures scuba diving, sailing, and traveling in Europe.  We compared notes on island living and they recounted funny stories of their time in places as diverse as St. Croix and Oregon, Trinidad and Ohio. 

One of life's great joys is to hear the stories of your family--to see the past through their eyes, to walk in their shoes, to have vague childhood memories fleshed out into rich, colorful detail, to see the things from years before you were born.  And it's up to the younger members of the family to seek out these stories; most older family members may reticient to share if we don't ask, perhaps unsure of our interest.  So, whenever I get the chance, I'm asking. Family photos are valuable, but there are photo albums that can only be seen with a listening heart, and these are priceless.

The Men

My Generation

Mom and her brood.
Mom and Dawn
Corny + Classy

Check out more pictures of the family here.  Also, look for the Florida Family Vacation at Disney on the Feller's blog.  I realized that the trip really was all about him, so it would be more appropriate to post it there.  It should be up in a few days.