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.


Anonymous said...

Awesome awesome list of women! Thank you for bringing light to these people's actions. They're changing my life!


John Vera said...


Great blog. I would agree on your selection of Keisha as inspirational. Not only is her integrity inspiring, but so is her tenacity. To complete nine weeks of OCS and decide to reapply and endure another ten weeks is a testament to Keisha's character. Most people would have thrown in the towel when faced with the prospect of having to face another ten weeks of Marine Officer Candidates School. Paez will make a fine Marine Corps Officer one day soon.


Or GySgt. Vera to you Keisha, haha.