Dec 31, 2012

Third Person: "Wanted: One Good Shepherd"

Entry #3 in my four-part holiday fiction series:

Here's the thing about sheep. They're not the smartest animals.  They need constant care, constant guidance.  They need to be protected.  In the open fields, they cannot be left alone.

So I don't care what you've got going on, what important errand you suddenly need to run, when my sheep are under your care, they are your life.

This last group I had--and I'm going to be real honest with you here--turned out to be useless.  I thought they were good--I would never have hired them otherwise, and they did good work--or I would have fired them earlier.  But they broke my cardinal rule.  They left the flock, and when they did, they left their jobs as well.  They say they went to see a baby born in Bethlehem; that angels appeared to them.  Well, I"m sorry but mental soundness is a must for this job--those seeing visions and hearing voices need not apply.  And I don't care if it's your own child being born, when you're on the job, the sheep are your life.

To be honest, rather than a pack of average sheep-herding hacks, I'd be  more than satisfied with just one good shepherd.  Never mind some baby, find me that man, and that's something worth celebrating.

Dec 23, 2012

Third Person: "First Served"

The second in a four part series of fiction entries:

Don't look at me that way.

Look, I was here first.

 I made a reservation.  That's what you do.  You don't just show up during the busiest travel season of the year and just expect to get a room.  I made this reservation months in advance--and got the room for a good deal too.  And it's no ordinary room--not one of those "garden view" types that has you looking out a parking lot.  This was a Gold Club room, private elevator, dedicated concierge, Jacuzzi tub in the room.  And I'm booked through the end of the week.

Yeah, I know she was pregnant.  And I felt bad.  But by the looks of them they probably couldn't afford my room any way--or really any room here.  I mean what was I supposed to do?  I couldn't just give them my room, right?  First come first served I always say.  I wish I hadn't been in the lobby when they came, all po'faced and haggard, the girl breathing hard and the guy looking all stressed.  They had me feeling guilty. But is it my fault they didn't plan ahead?

And even if I had given them my room, where was I supposed to go?  I've got meetings all this week.  Major presentations.  I screw up, I lose the account, I maybe lose my job.  I need to be well-rested, sharp.  As busy as it is this week I'd have probably ended up camping out in a barn somewhere.

I don't know what happened with them.  I heard the manager talking about working something out.  I haven't seem them around this morning, so I guess they didn't stay here.  But I hope they're okay.

Anyway, I gotta run.  Some of us have important things to do. The boss is counting on me to save the world-- or this account anyway.  You know how it is.

Take it easy.

Dec 22, 2012

Third Person: "Did You Hear What I Heard?"

For the first time, I foray into fiction here in this blog with a series of short vignettes that seek to bring a fresh perspective to the Christmas story.  I originally used this story (and the the three that will follow) as a monologue that I shared with my class for morning worship last week.

Did you hear what I heard?

Yep.  It's true.  She's pregnant.

Of all people, right.  Little Miss Perfect got herself in trouble.  It's not really that surprising if you think about it.  It's always her kind. All prayers and innocence and It'll never happen to me, and when it does: I don't know how it happened. 

Well, J will leave her for sure.

Of course, it's not his!  From what my cousin told me she went away for a couple of months and when she came back, well, baggy clothes aren't fooling anybody. She sure got that backwards, huh.  Get knocked up then go away on trip to "see your cousin" for a few months and come back with your "nephew" that you're looking after for an ill relative.  

Yeah, she was sweet.  Just not the sharpest girl.

Anyway, J didn't travel with her so it can't be his.  And besides he's a good guy.  He'll find a way to privately end things, spare her as much embarrassment as possible, though everyone's gonna know the truth anyway.  But you know him, he'll never have an ugly word to say about her.

You know who I really feel for though?  The kid.  He'll never have a chance; his life is ruined from the start.  This will follow him, literally, for the rest of his life.  Just watch, he'll be running with the wrong crowd, in trouble with the authorities, and sadly he'll probably die young.  I know it's harsh, but look it the stats--she's doomed the child.  I'm telling you, he doesn't live past thirty give or take a few years.

It's a shame. God knows. . .

Dec 8, 2012

Getting Over Easy Pt 1: "Taking the Hard Road"

This year's class of Buckeye Classic Challenge conquerors, all 8th grade students, at the finish line of the Buckeye Classic 10K Run, Sunday, November 11, 2012.  From L to R:  "The Win" and "EK" both returning veterans from last year's Challenge, "The Voice" this year's new CAA champion, "The Actress" and "J-Z" our two young ladies on the team this year.

If you think about it, running is a funny thing to choose to do.  It's certainly not the easiest way to get from point A to point B.  It's one of the least efficient means of traveling.  Of course there are the exercise benefits,and I guess that's the main reason most people run.  But then you can exercise without ever entering a race.  And why would one sign up for a race with hundreds, if not thousands of other runners, knowing you have no chance of winning?

I believe the reason so many of us come to embrace running is because we want to challenge ourselves.  We want to take on something difficult and succeed at it.  In a world that is continuously peddling ease, comfort, pleasure, and instant gratification something in us cries out for a challenge, for an opportunity to push ourselves out of our comfort zone and accomplish something that demands real effort.  While I may not win against other runners, I can win against myself--I could defeat the lazier, less determined me who said I couldn't do it.

This mindset, I'm learning is not a given though. There are many who ask with incredulity why they would ever do something discomfiting and difficult on purpose.  But I believe there is value in avoiding the easy way from time to time, and I've made it a goal of mine to develop that mindset in my students. . .and in myself.

Here's the thing.  Covering 6.2 miles on foot is not necessarily difficult, even if hills are involved.  Almost anyone could do it.  All you have to do is walk.  It might take close to three hours, but you could do it and it would be easy. . .

My challenge this year with the five students that took up this year's Buckeye Challenge--to train for and run the annual Buckeye Classic 10K--was to actively seek out difficulty.  This concept seemed completely counter-intuitive to them.  Why on earth would we make something any harder than it has to be, they asked.  The answer is that great rewards inherently come with great cost.  It simply wouldn't be enough to claim they had covered ten kilometers--it needed to cost them something in order for the accomplishment to truly have value.
"The Win" and "EK" at the starting line.  Both boys set new PR's this year at the  Buckeye Classic with "The  Win" nudging a minute off of last year's time at 1:27:00 and "EK" blasting a full six minutes off his old time to finish at 1:22:17.

A thumbs up from "The Voice" at the starting line.  I always  knew this kid could run and I was so excited that he decided to take the Challenge this year.  Even as the fastest runner on the team this year, I believe he can go faster still.  What I often told him during training, I still believe: "I believe you can give more."

"J-Z" and "The Actress" ready to run.  It was so great to have these two girls with us this year.  I felt it was especially important to have girls taking on and achieving the Challenge.

I realized the focus had to shift during the final month or so or training, after all five students were no longer intimidated by the idea of running in and of itself.  All of the kids had learned to handle the weekday conditioning runs as well as the longer runs on the weekend, and the problem was they were pretty satisfied with where they were.  They were not pushing themselves towards any goals, and if anything seem determined to take it easy.  Up until this point I'd been running with the kids at their pace, taking turns pacing with the faster and slower runners, and encouraging and coaching them along the way.  But I now realized that this type of motivation was no longer what they needed.   I had been talking a good game about pushing themselves and giving 100%, but honestly it was easy to say.  What the kids needed was to see me set an example.

So I set a challenging goal for myself, and what I hoped were equally challenging goals for my students.  Then I dared them to meet their goals by the time I met mine (or sooner).  My goal was to complete five laps of our course in Innis Park in 30 minutes or less--a total distance of approximately 3.8 miles.  I'd covered that distance in that amount of time before in runs near my house, but that had been a flat course and this course required me to climb a fairly steep hill in every lap.  I had set a goal that I felt was difficult but where success while not a given was definitely possible with the utmost effort and focus.  I wanted something that would require me to push myself, to really give everything I had.

This was our practice course at Innis Park .  The star marks where each lap began.

And so we began.  I'm telling you we who are teachers, parents, and other adult authority figures need a wake up call like this one.  When you tell your kids never to give up, to not quit when the going gets rough, it lends you a whole other level of authority when you are being tested to your very limits too.  The runs were unbelievably difficult.  I had to run much faster than my usual comfortable pace.  Very early into my runs the mental battle began.  On the one hand feeling like I just couldn't do it, that I needed to stop and walk and on the other feeling that I couldn't quit, I had to keep going.  Day after day, I struggled to reach my goal, and most days I was close--just yards away from victory when the time ran out.  I realized that trying hard was not enough.  I needed to prepare properly--eating well and hydrating well in advance of the run as well as getting enough sleep.  I also had to plan strategically. I had to track my pace constantly and carefully.  I experimentedwith different combinations of running and walking in an effort to shave a few more seconds off my time.  Walk too much, obviously, and I wouldn't be able to make it up when I ran.  Walk too little, and the blistering pace I was pushing would begin to flag in final portion of the run.  This was not about merely going the distance, this was about meeting the goal.

I shared my observations and experiences with the kids after each run, and this time it wasn't advice delivered from on high, but insights shared by a fellow runner.  I don't know how much the kids noted my struggle, but one by one the students started rising to the challenge.  I believe "EK" was the first to meet his goal, smashing it easily, and then immediately setting new and more challenging goals for himself.  "The Actress" (so named for her considerable talent as a performer on stage) and "The Win" were next, both also accomplishing their goals with relative ease.  Having met a goal that in hindsight was probably too easy, these two were satisfied with their accomplishment and stopped really trying after that, much to my irritation. The last two kids had goals more similar to mine--just hard enough to make success possible but uncertain.  "J-Z" closed the gap on her goal on the second to last run before the 10K and "The Voice" finally achieved his on the final day of training, after having argued to me that the goal was too hard and there was no way he could ever achieve it.  I was so proud of him when midway through the race as I noted his pace and the grim look of tortured determination on his face and knew that the goal was his to lose.

As for me?  I was the only one of our group who never managed to achieve my goal.  I came the closest on the last day of training--the same day that "The Voice" knocked off his goal.  I missed it by mere footsteps.  I was alone at the crest of the hill when the time ran out and I was only an arm's length or two from the finish line. For a few moments I was sorely tempted to tell the kids I'd done it.  After all I was "basically" there right?  I'd completed the goal more or less, I rationalized.  And of course no one was around to argue otherwise.  But in the end I went back and told the kids I hadn't done and shared the reason why.  I had begun to celebrate too soon.  As I sped up the hill towards the end of the fifth and final lap at a pace that seemed more than fast enough, I allowed myself to slow down just a tiny bit.  I decided to relieve the burning in my lungs, the aching in my muscles just a little early.  After all, I had made it.  Those precious few seconds were enough to snatch defeat from jaws of victory.

It was a disheartening end to our training for me, but I like to think that my example made a difference for the students I was training.  When the real Buckeye Classic on a pleasantly balmy November Sunday morning, the kids were ready.  They all finished, most set new PRs, and one, "The Voice" shattered "B.SteaLth's" record from last year with a time of 1:13:04.

On the course with "J-Z".  I ran with "J-Z" through the entire race and though her  pace wasn't as fast as the  others I think she was one of the hardest workers of the group.  She pushed herself more than most.

As for me, there is still unfinished business.  Once we get the baby on a regular schedule and I have some normalcy I'm going to start training again.  And sometime, on a day when the weather is pretty good, I'm going to head back out to Innis Park, and I'm going to get this done.

  5 laps. 30 minutes.

I know it won't be easy.  But that's the point.

Celebrating a job well done with family and friends at the finish line

"J-Z" and "The Actress" with their proud mamas

Nov 30, 2012

A Day for Giving Thanks

The Official  Maycock Family Thanksgiving Portrait, November 25, 2012

For awhile now Thanksgiving has been less about the specific day and more about the people we share the time with.

For the first two years after we moved back to the States from Saipan, we celebrated Thanksgiving with the Paez tribe on the fourth Friday in November, rather than on Thursday because our flight arrived in Portland on Thanksgiving day. Last year we enjoyed two celebrations, a quiet one here at home with Barbara's parents, and then our traditional celebration with the Paez family the week after Christmas in Oregon.

The Paez family mourns our absence at Thanksgiving this year.  Carol sent me  this photo on Thanksgiving day with the caption "Thanksgiving without the Maycocks."  We missed them too.  Next year! (In the mean time we're grateful to have Carol, at least coming to spend a few days with us the week after Thanksgiving)

This year we didn't even bother to make any concrete Thanksgiving plan.  There was no long menu of foods to cook, no guest list to plan, no flights to catch or drives to make.  As in previous years our approach to Thanksgiving had everything to do with the people--or in this case the person--we shared the day with rather than the day of the holiday and the food we ate.

Thanksgiving day 2012 began at the hospital and ended here at home.  The menu was supposed to be chicken pot pie but it turns out I didn't have any shortening so we scrounged together some left overs instead.  But none of that mattered.  What mattered was the person for whom we gladly turned our holiday plans upside down, our newborn son, Ezra.  He was born just two days before Thanksgiving and in his arrival we have much to give thanks for.

Next year, I don't know where, when, or how we'll celebrate Thanksgiving.  But one thing I know for sure:  It will be the people, including a special one-year old, who will make the day special.

A friend of mine recently announced on Facebook that her daughter had been wishing folks a "Happy Birth Giving" and while for most it might have been a cute misstatement, for us it was a very apt description of a our experience, a happy birth giving indeed!  Thanks to the epidural, Ezra's entrance into the world was virtually pain free from start to finish.

A new day, a new chapter in our life.  Sunrise on the first full day of Ezra's life.  I took this photo from Barbara's hospital room, early Wednesday morning, November 21 , the day before Thanksgiving.

The Feller meets his little brother for the first time.

With the grandparents

Ezra Maycock, the focus of this year's Thanksgiving celebration.

Nov 22, 2012

Welcome Ezra Thomson Maycock

Ezra made his entrance into the world on Tuesday night, November 20 at 9:38 P.M.  He was almost exactly the same weight as his older brother at birth: 6 lbs, 15 oz.

Here he is, the newest addition to the Maycock family.  Elijah's little brother has wasted no time in carving a special place in our hearts.  We praise God for this wonderful gift of a healthy, baby boy.

More on this special Thanksgiving baby soon to come!

Nov 19, 2012

The First Day of The Rest of Our Lives

Today a family of three; tomorrow a family of four

Tomorrow, once again my world shifts forever.  They say that having a child changes your life, and I can attest that's true.  But what I suspect is also true is that having a second child changes your life all over again.

It wasn't like this with Elijah.  He came like a thief in the night and there was no time to prepare.  Parenthood was thrust upon us three weeks early, and we hit the ground running, making it up as we went along.

But this time, we've had the chance to prepare: physically--Bab's bag has been in the trunk of the car for the past four weeks, the crib is set up, our baby's clothes, diapers, wipes, are neatly stored and ready for use. Mentally, we, at least in theory know what to expect.  The sleeplessness, the diaper changes, we've been through it all before so we should be ready (though I'm amazed by how much I can no longer remember about those early days with Elijah).  But emotionally. . .I'm not sure how to be ready.  I don't know that I can truly be prepared for a change of this magnitude.

What I've realized with the imminent arrival of our second son is that this is really the beginning of what will, by the grace and mercy of God, be the "normal" for our family for the rest of our lives.  The eleven years Babs and I had together, and the four years with the just the three of us will be dwarfed by the decades to come as a family of four.  It feels like such a huge change for our oldest, but I realize that for him he will barely remember a life without his brother, and his mother and I will remember these past four years as a brief time before our family settled into the form that we know it.

Tomorrow, my lovely, strong, wife, the mother of my children and my best friend will go to work to bring our son into the world, and I'll be by her side.  And with us the One who has been with us all along.  My prayer for both my boys is that what has been true for me will be true for them too:

"For Thou Art my hope, O Lord God, Thou art my confidence from my youth. By Thee, I have been sustained from my birth.  Thou art He who took me from my mother's womb; My praise is continually of Thee"
               --Psalms 71:5-6

Oct 13, 2012

Hope & Change

"Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."
                                                                                       --Hebrews 11:1

A few weeks ago I watched the especially grim cinematic treatment of the life of an educator in the the film Detachment.

It was heavy.  Like watching an hour and a half Breaking Bad special episode, but with only a quarter of the dark humor.  By the final ten minutes, I was praying for a little Hollywood in the ending, just to leaven the despair.

I have nothing but the highest regard for the teachers who slog it out in our worst public schools.  I think I'm a pretty decent teacher, but I honestly don't know that I have it in me to do what they do and deal with what they deal with, day in and day out.

It was a good film though, one that places crisis of modern youth, the state of education in 21st century America, and the challenges and failings of teachers, parents, and kids alike in sharp, harsh relief.  Some might argue that it perhaps overstates these things, and they might be right.  But I suppose that's what drama does--heightens and even exaggerates reality to make a point.

What I found virtually absent from this somber film--something that I am deeply grateful is not absent from my own experience as a teacher--is hope.  I feel blessed to teach in a school where rescue actually seems possible. I feel blessed to still believe 15 years in that I might actually make a difference.  I feel blessed to teach daily with a sense of optimism and hope; with the sense that the belief that my students can make it is not just a nice sentiment.

Some of my students getting ready for an afternoon run.  The Annual Buckeye Classic Challenge is what I 'd call a hope-builder.  This is my second year challenging my students to train for and run the Buckeye Classic 10K.  This year five students have taken up the challenge--two girls and three boys (the two extra girls in the photo above are younger siblings of the official challenge participants.  They run with us on the weekday sessions "just for fun.").  I'm so impressed with how well they've done so far and I have high hopes for their success on the run itself on November 11.

Hope and change.  Those two words have become loaded in the past four years.  They've become a byword and a mockery to some; a bitter disappointment to others.  But while hope and change may not mean a whole lot in the world of politics, these twin concepts are indispensable to the teacher.  The day that I lose hope, that I stop believing change is possible for my students is the day I need to retire.  For now, though I hold high hopes for my students.  I see such potential in them, and every time I think of them I can't help but feel optimistic for the futures I know they can have.  Often times I think I have to believe for them. It's hard for them to envision what they are truly capable of--I know it was for me when I was their age.  So I keep telling them: You are strong.  You are smart.  You are beautiful.  You are capable.  You have greatness in you.  And they're not just words--I see it all in them.  I've come to believe that the greatest enemy of my students' success is hopelessness--the negative belief that change is not possible.

Of course even the highest hopes can be dashed against the vagaries of life.  Hope can be snuffed out in an instant in a car wreck or a doctor's diagnosis.  A single poor choice can bring a lifetime of consequences, and bright stars can quickly fade when secret sins become known.  And so I'm especially grateful that I'm have hope not just for this life, but for something more.  I have this Hope that burns within my heart, Hope that outlasts this life and into eternity. As a Christian, even more so than as a teacher,I cannot afford cynicism.  Hope of real and permanent change is the foundation of my faith.

So if you ask me "How's that hopey-changey thing working out for you,"  my response will always be  "Pretty well, actually."

"But we all with open faces beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord"
                                                                 -2 Corinthians 3:18

Sep 29, 2012

Like: My Favorite Things about Facebook

I like Facebook.  I know it's not fashionable to say that these days.  What is popular is go gripe about how awful it is and how we hardly ever go on there anyway (even as we update our status).  But I'm going to buck the trend and say it loud and proud.  I enjoy Facebook.

I first joined Facebook about a week after my oldest son was born--in the early fall of 2008.  A former student of mine, Aya Sato, had been encouraging me to join for quite some time, but I'd not gotten around to it.  I've never been what you'd call an early-adopter.  The bandwagon is usually pretty full by the time I jump on.  But on that Sabbath afternoon, Elijah was sleeping in the downstairs playpen, his mother was upstairs getting some much needed sleep as well, and all of a sudden, and quite unexpectedly I found myself with nothing to do.  "What the heck, might as well join Facebook" I said to myself. And so I did.  And I found I liked it.  Much better than Myspace, which was on the brink of entering irrelevancy at that time.  I liked the clean (some might say boring) look free of busy wallpaper and other flashy touches.  I liked that it seemed more geared for adults rather than kids.  I liked the open news feed and the absence of adolescent features like the "top eight friends."  So for the past four years I've been a pretty regular Facebook user.

There are many negative things I could say about Facebook, I'm sure, but in keeping with the inability to dislike anything on Facebook, this post will focus only on the things I like.

I like it when people post infrequently  and only when they have something witty, entertaining, interesting or thought provoking to say.  Heck, I like people who post frequently and always have something witty, entertaining, interesting or thought provoking to say.  The witty, entertaining, interesting, and thought-provoking is the important part.

I like the news feed.  It's where I almost always go on Facebook.  I rarely look people's actual profiles (which is perhaps why I don't hate timeline the way some people do, and why my own profile remains unenhanced under the new timeline feature).

I like being able to provide real-time updates to people who care. I really took advantage of this during our last 8th grade class trip to New York.  Many of my students parents were Facebook friends of mine and I was able to post pictures and status updates throughout the trip so that the parents could know where we were and what we were doing throughout the trip.  I generally don't friend people very often, but I think I'm going to friend as many of my 8th grade parents as I can so that I can do the same thing this year.

I like getting likes.  I think everyone does and I believe it's one of the reasons that Facebook is so popular. It is an engine of affirmation.  No matter what one says on Facebook, there invariably will be a string of "likes" and comments to cheer one on.  Try it sometime--look for someone to say a mean word on Facebook--you'll be hard pressed to find one (and when you do it will probably be by someone under the age of 16).   Despite the news reports about Facebook bullying and such, I find it to be by and large a positive place--certainly more so than the rest of the internet where downright ugliness often prevails.

I like staying in touch with old friends.  It's nice being able to feel like I still have a connection--however tenuous--with people that have meant a lot to me from my past.  College, high school, and even elementary pals. A host of Saipan loved ones, former students and colleagues.  Church members.  They are all there and it's nice to "see" them in this little way.  Sure there are few people who are Facebook friends but who are acquaintances at most in real life (Even though I don't friend very often, I'm reluctant to decline a friendship request unless I really have no idea who you are), but I'd say most of my friends are exactly that. . . my friends.

I like getting to know people through Facebook.  This doesn't happen very often since as I just said, most of my friends are real-life friends too, but there are a few exceptions and they've proven quite rewarding. One in particular is my cousin Dee Johnson.  I don't know my dad's side of the family very well, as my parents split when I was quite young, and I admit to being rather incurious about that side of my family for many years.  But Dee fascinated me.  He friended me very early in my Facebook years and for the longest time I couldn't figure out who he was.  I knew he was related to me but I didn't know how.  But I found his life fascinating--living and raising his kids in Sweden, for example. Posting hip tracklistings from Spotify.  Sporting some cool dreads.  The whole American abroad struck a chord with me, as I too knew the rewards and pleasures (as well as challenges) of living outside the U.S. mainland.  Eventually through talking to my grandmother, Uncle Antoine, and Aunt Adrienne I was able to discover that Dee was in fact my cousin (as was "Joe Polo" another mystery friend with a Maycock connection).  It turns out we even met when we were both very young.

My grandmother shared this photo with me when I saw her at the  NAD teacher's convention in Nashville in August.  I'm in the striped shirt in the center sitting on my grandfather's knee.  Dee, is in the yellow top on the far left (If I remember correctly).

I like funny on Facebook.  I appreciate those who brighten my day with a laugh, whether it's their own original brand of humor (Rey Descalso, I'm looking at you.) or those funny, snarky e-card things

I like people who are positive without being sappy or cliche.  This is no easy task and I admire those few who pull it off so well.  Kristen Jarnes Browning, an aquaintance from college who regularly posts her gratitude lists comes to mind..

Facebook gets a lot of flak these days. Flak about privacy concerns, flak about oversharing, flak about political postings and the ensuing squabbles, flak about the supposed evidence of rampant narcissism in it's social media landscape, but to me Facebook is what you make of it.  And what I've made of it, I like quite well.

Straight Talk about Telling It Like It Is

or Telling It Like It Is About Straight Talk

Normally I like to choose my words carefully with a great deal of consideration as to how they'll be received and their potential effectiveness.  But today I'm going to dispense with the niceties and cut to the chase.

Telling it like it is is often highly overrated.

Problem: When people are telling it like it is most of they are really only telling it like they think.  We fancy ourselves as great truth-tellers but in fact we've merely exalted our own opinion to the level indisputable fact. This is why this kind of attitude crops up more often in arenas like religion and politics, areas where indisputable facts are much rarer than we'd like to think but where it's easy for deeply held beliefs to feel absolutely true.

Problem: It doesn't usually work.  Think about it.  When was the last time you were convinced to change your viewpoint or way of life because someone gave you some so-called straight talk.  We like to tell ourselves "someone needs to set that guy straight."  But when have you ever been "set straight" by someone else?  How often does someone say "Wow, thinks for completely laying bare each and every way that I'm in the wrong"?

Problem: Usually when we're telling it like it is, we're not trying to change anyone else's mind.  Instead we're doing it for the enjoyably smug feeling of being right.  If we know that someone is unlikely to change from a browbeating or verbal smack down--you know the kind that makes onlookers go "Oooooh" like school kids responding to an especially snappy put-down--it's clear that there are other reasons for straight talk.  Primarily letting everyone else see how clever we are.

I'm not saying there's no place for straight talk; that only diplomatic talk has legitimate value, but here's a couple of things to keep in mind next time you're tempted to indulge in some feel-good smacking-down, some righteous reprimanding.

It's usually time to give it to 'em straight if you are reluctant to do so.  This is a pretty good indication that what you have to say isn't to gratify your own ego, but because someone else really needs to hear the truth. If you can't wait to "set that guy straight",you probably should keep your mouth shut.

If you've earned the right to speak, you have a duty to do so.   If not you probably won't be heard.  When you have a close relationship with someone, when that person knows you care for them unconditionally then not only are they ready to hear the truth from you--they are counting on it.  Because while we may shut out the self-righteous bloviating or smug false concern of those who don't know and care for us, we need to hear the truth from those we know are in our corner.  But you get to be that person not by being right but by being a friend.  Sadly sometimes it the people who are the in the best position to tell it like it is that fail to do so.  Elvis, Michael Jackson and other sad cautionary celebrity stories of those who surrounded by yes men had plenty of critics, but those critics spoke their truths from a distance and were never heard.  It was the responsibility of those who had earned the right to be heard to speak.

If your goal  is not to change the mind of the person you are talking to, but to warn others than it's time to speak hard truths.  Your speaking up may put your own reputation, livelihood  and even personal safety at risk.  Most times when we're in a hurry to tell someone off, there's no cost to ourselves.  But when someone poses a real danger to others, it often means they pose a danger to you as well.  Jesus presents a good example of this; he had strong words for the religious leaders of his days--brood of vipers, white washed tombs, hypocrites--and he didn't sugar coat the truth.  Not because he expected to correct these men but because they were leading people astray and had to be called out for the sake of those who would be deceived by them.  If like me, you're having a hard time thinking of similar situations in your own life, that should come as no surprise.  Opportunities for this kind of truth-telling are rare in deed.

So there it is, my unvarnished take on shoot from the hip straight talkers.  I offer no apologies to those I might offend.

After all, I'm just. . .you know. . .telling it like it is.


Sep 22, 2012

The Best Year Yet

Three of my 8th grade students raise the flag on the first day of school while the rest of  Columbus Adventist Academy looks on.

For the first day of school this year I put together a brief PowerPoint slide show that I set to play while the kids were coming in that morning. The show contained instructions for the day, some choice song lyrics from the two songs--"Lifetime" and "Set the World on Fire "-- that played along with the show, and a joyful welcome that promised this to be "the best year yet!"  That was the plan, that was the goal, and so far that is the reality is I've plunged into my fifteenth year as a professional educator.

The best year yet first began to take shape weeks before classes began at the North American Division teacher's convention in Nashville, Tennessee from Sunday, August 5 to Wednesday, August 8, 2012.  Every six years the Seventh-day Adventist church brings together all of its teachers in a massive gathering to teach and inspire:  big-name keynote speakers from the world of education, a dizzying array of breakout sessions to give teachers "use-it-now" ready to go out of the box ideas for the coming school year, exhibitors from all over hawking all manner of pedagogical products, and worship sessions designed to give us the spiritual fuel to go with practical tools.

Facing Math vendor in the exhibit hall. I bought a bunch of these books that combine art and math into a single activity.  They make great  practice activities.

 This was no ordinary skip-the-seminars-and-sightsee convention.  The four days I spent in Nashville were rich and invaluable on every level.  The Highlights:

A view of the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention center where we stayed and where the  convention  was held.  The venue itself was a highlight!  In the months leading up there was much discussion about who would stay in the Gaylord this year (apparently six years ago the entire Allegheny West Conference was farmed out to lesser hotels nearby and the teachers had to commute to the convention events).  I didn't really get what the big deal until I saw the Gaylord for myself.  The place is amazing--the Disney World of hotels.  I was indoors for three days straight--never left the building.  But it didn't feel that way with acres of indoor space dotted with trees, fountains, quaint shops, taverns, and cafes, and even a winding river where visitors could take a boat tour of the resort  The vast glass ceiling let in the natural light adding the illusion of being outside.  Walking from seminar to main session to my room to exhibit hall I felt like I was outdoors on a cool autumn day (I can't imagine what the electric bill for that place must be, with the amount of air conditioning it takes to keep all that indoor "outdoor" space comfortable)

Life-changing general session:  Todd Whitaker's "What Great Teachers Do Differently."    I first came across Whitaker's ideas during principals meetings in Hawaii four years ago where his seminal book What Great Principals Do Differently was the organizing basis for the principal's in-service.  What I thought then, was confirmed now:  this guy is a genius.  He upends some of the most common assumptions in education--"lectures are bad", "always start with something positive" among others--with the kind of commonsense wisdom that is both revolutionary and so simply true you can't believe you didn't see it before.

A sample of the practical genius Todd Whitaker has to offer:

If you're a teacher or a principal, I strongly urge you get his book right away.  Click on the links above.

Revolutionary Seminar: Tom Clark,the founder of VideoText Interactive completely destroyed and rebuilt how I teach math in the space of about an hour and a half.  He delved into the "whys" behind a lot of the concepts I've struggled to get my students to grasp.  There are concepts like why multiplying two negatives equals a positive that I always accepted as true but never understood--or could teach--the reasoning behind until that seminar.  I'm still processing what I learned in that seminar.

Spiritual Mountaintop:  There were many.  Pastor Carlton Byrd's powerful call to higher ground on the opening night for example.  And Pastor Dwight Nelson's incisive and insightful devotionals each morning (As a result of his talks I've revamped my private devotional practice once again, returning to the first principles of "A New Way to Pray" that I first learned from Pastor Nelson in the spring of 1994).   But for sheer spiritual uplift it was hard to beat the concert by Committed on Monday night. It started out as an ordinary showcase of the a cappella stylings that made them champions of NBC' The Sing-Off.  But when they shifted to a time of praise and worship, the atmosphere was electrified as we all joined our voices with theirs.  It was one of those rare times when you feel sure you can hear the angels singing with you.  The rest of the concert was nothing short of heavenly.

I left Nashville energized, fired up, and ready to go into the year full-tilt; ready to make this the best year yet.
Old friends Kevin and Vicki Wiley who I hadn't seen since 1998.  It was funny, they didn't recognize me at first until I said "You were at our wedding!"  For both Kevin and Vicki that seemed to do the trick. An added extra-curricular highlight of the convention was seeing long-lost friends.  There were so many people I knew there.  It is no exaggeration to say you  walk from one point in the convention center to another without every five minutes bumping into someone you hadn't seen in years.

Jeanie Drake (now, somebody else. . .I didn't catch the new last name).  She was one of our first  friends when we moved to Saipan in 1998.  She taught 3rd/4th grade at Saipan SDA School and was our next-door neighbor.
Kathy Stair Anthes, another Saipan teaching alum from the 2000-2001 school year with her husband and son.  As a student missionary in Saipan, Kathy taught kindergarten and co-founded REAL Christian Theater with me and Aaron Knowlton.  In fact, the name REAL was her idea!  It was so great to catch up with the legendary K-Stair.

My grandmother and me.  Several of my family members from my dad's side of the family including my Uncle Antoine, Aunt Adrienne, and my grandmother drove up from Huntsville on Tuesday, August 7 to visit me and another cousin at the convention.  I spent a pleasant afternoon catching up with them.

The first day of school set the tone.  It was probably the best first day I've ever experienced in my teaching career.  Our principal had the idea that we should welcome the students with a kind of red carpet experience complete with cheering fans and paparazzi photographers.  So we got a couple of eighht graders to come early to act as greeters, lined up at the front door with our cameras in hand and gave the students and parents a first day welcome they'd never forget.  It was so much fun, and you could see on the faces of each person that arrived what a special experience it was for them.
Awaiting the arrival of the students.  Our red carpet was hardly big enough to roll out, but the love behind it was more than big enough.
Welcome back everyone!
One of my 8th grade stars, "The Voice" makes his entrance.

Hamming it up for the photogs

One of my heroes this year, the ever-faithful Ms. Pat arrives

This year marks the culmination of a four year journey with my 8th grade class--a journey towards a different way of classroom management--one that asks the students to take ownership and responsibility not just for their behavior in class but for their lives as a whole. Since they've been fifth graders I've been working in fits and starts with this class to empower them.  I've incorporated elements of Jim Roy's Soul Shapers and Stephen Covey's "Leader in Me" (which our school is seeking to make part of our school culture this year) among others.  Some methods have worked, others haven't, and for others the jury is still out.  We've spent more time in discussion--instead of me telling students what they've done wrong and what the punishment will be--we talk it out, and they tell me.  I've urged the students to think about "changing the culture" of their classroom, and by extension the school and setting a high standard for themselves, and by extension for the younger students coming behind them.

This year all of my students are involved in some kind of classroom leadership--much of the classroom tasks I used to do, I've passed to them.  I have an IT supervisor who checks out all the electronics for student uses and sets up the computer and projector for class presentations.  I have a secretary who does the daily lunch count, classroom managers who keep the room clean and organized, and even a praise and worship team that leads song service every morning (and often presents the entire worship program for the day).  I can't say for sure whether it's "working"--after a pretty solid first three weeks some of the old problems and issues began popping up again.  Bu at least t they're not any worse with the changes I've implemented,  than they've been before.  One thing that helps is that I have hard-won relationships with these kids, relationships that I've worked for years to build.  The kids know me, and I them, and there's a deep level of trust and good will in place even when it comes time to deal with disciplinary issues.

It's nice to finally be back in my groove again.  After having to start all over again when I arrived at CAA three years ago, I finally feel like I know my way around--that the kids know me and that my reputation once again precedes me--doing a lot of the work for me of establishing the classroom tone that I used to have to do myself.  This year may not be perfect in the classroom, but so far it does appear that it will be the best yet.

Teacher worship in the morning continues to be church in the best sense of the word. Our time of reflection, praise, and prayer is shorter than last year as we've committed to being at our doors when the students arrive--but more powerful than ever.  The deep sense of camraderie as strong as ever, and our new 5th/6th grade teacher, Tamaria Kulemeka, replacing the irreplacable Renee Lee, has blended seamlessly with our team.  Each morning is a rush of Spirit-filled energy, and there have been days when we've been moved literally to tears by His presence.

CAA teacher's pray over the desks of the students on the afternoon of the second day of school.

In a larger sense I feel like I'm in a really fertile time in my spiritual life.  There's more vibrancy in my journey with God than there has been in many years.  There have been many things that have fueled this spiritual re-awakening--the aforementioned teacher's convention and the worships with the teacher, and also an inspiring seminar on prayer by Ron Halvorsen that Babs and I attended last month in Dayton. But life itself has presented numerous opportunities of late for me to learn to trust Jesus more.

When we returned from our summer trip to Oregon, we found a letter in the mail from our son's preschool abruptly informing us that the CAA discount on tuition for our son had been reduced from 50% to 15% off the regular cost.  Suddenly preschool had become completely un-affordable.  This was the first several events that led to some serious economic challenges for our family.  For the first time in a very long time--perhaps the first time ever, we were facing a household budget deficit--more month than money.  That might seem like an odd time to consider that Barbara stop working, but ironically it was these financial challenges that led us to the radical notion that we get Elijah out of regular preschool and at home with mom.  My friend J's wife Evelyn stopped working to stay home with their son when they moved to Chicago, and when they came to visit while J and I went to Nashville, Barbara got to see what such a life might look like up close.  And it didn't look bad at all.

Things moved quickly during the month of August.  Opportunities arose and evaporated as quickly as they came.  We were on a roller-coaster journey that gave us the choice: either be terrified out of our wits or sit back and enjoy the ride.  We chose, by the grace of God to trust in Him, and enjoy the ride.  And what a ride it's been!  Babs' last day at her job at the preschool where she worked for almost three years was September 14.  Elijah is home with her now and their days are busy with visits to the library, free classes at the Columbus Metro parks, trips to COSI, and gymnastics class plus the little art, language and math lessons she prepares for him at home. She also has a new job teaching art one and half days a week at my school and at Worthington Adventist Academy.  I've also taken on some private after school care in my classroom watching a pair of students  after the school day is over until their parents can pick them up around 5:30 or 6.  Together we have been able to replace Barbara's old income and even increase by a little more.

It gives me great joy to know that on most days my son and his mother are together doing something wonderful, and I'm always excited to hear about the day's adventures.  And I'm so happy for Babs that she gets to do something she really enjoys.

Babs and The Feller come out to wave good bye to me each morning when I leave for work.  I love the new family traditions we have now.  I get up early with Elijah every morning while Babs gets a little extra sleep.  I make breakfast and we all sit down to eat breakfast together.  Then we have a short family worship together before I leave for work.

The ends aren't quite meeting yet, and we still don't know what we'll do on vacations and next summer when our income from our little side jobs will disappear.  We're also still sorting out exactly where Elijah will go when Barbara teaches (The latest roller-coaster drop was when the plan we'd had for him fell through the day before Barbara's first day of teaching--he ended up coming to work with her that day, but that clearly won't work for the long term).  But if I've learned anything in these past two months it's that God is in
control, and that we can never go wrong trusting in Him.  I've spent most of my life trusting more in the gifts than the One who gives them.  If I can learn to reverse the focus of my trust, I will achieve that peace that passes all understanding, peace that exists independently of circumstance and cannot be shaken.  If I can trust God at that level. this truly will be the best year yet whatever the future holds.

Sep 8, 2012

The President's Speech

President Barack Obama at  Capital University in Columbus, Ohio.  August 21, 2012

Two and half weeks ago I took my students to hear President Obama speak at a campaign stop on the campus of Capital University.  The opportunity came up at the last minute--I found out about the event only two days prior, and it was a mad scramble to get tickets for all of my students.

My students among the crowd at the President's rally.  You can spot them in the maroon shirts.

A small group of students met me at the school about two hours before the start of the school day so that we could get over to the venue and hold a place in line for the rest of the class.  We got a prime spot maybe two dozen people back from the front of the line, but had to wait for more almost two hours before we were let into the outdoor space where the President would be speaking.  After that we waited for close to three more hours, much of the time under a merciless sun before he finally arrived and gave his speech.

Everybody cheered when we saw what we assumed was a  Secret Service  sniper team setting up on the roof top

But it was worth the wait.  I've always believed that the opportunity to hear our president speak should never be passed up.  Regardless of one's politics, I have this old-fashioned idea that no matter who the president is he--or she--deserves our respect and needs our support.  If we don't like the policies the chief executive pursues, we can always vote him out at the next election. But while the president is in office, he should have our our prayers and well-wishes.  After all, if the president fails, we all pay the price, so how can we wish him less than success?

I had the good fortune to hear former President George W. Bush speak as well, back when he was still in his first term in the summer of 2003.  I went with Babs and her family to hear him speak at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.  We were part of a huge crowd and so couldn't see him very well.  Still it was exciting--he flew directly to the venue on Air Force One and we were able to watch the iconic 747 sail overhead as it approached for landing (and later watch it fly off again).  I don't remember much about the speech itself, but I still counted it an honor to hear the president speak, even though I personally disagreed with many of his policies.
The lucky folks at the first barricade were able to catch a quick handshake after the speech

At President Obama's rally, we had a much better vantage point.  The kids opted to sit on a set of bleachers set up under some TV lights just a little further back from the stage, but my school principal and I stood right on the second railing (There was another railing right in front of the platform but this space was for special ticket holders--I'm not sure how one gets these VIP tickets, but I'd love to get them for next time.  These people were able to actually shake the president's hand when he worked the barricades after his speech.  President Obama arrived in shirt sleeves and gave a solid campaign speech--mostly the usual election-season politicking--but of course me being more of a liberal, most of it struck a chord with me.

One of my students, who I'll call the Voice, because he loves to sing, is interviewed by a reporter from our local ABC News affiliate after the president's speech.

The thing that struck me most about our trip to hear the president speak was not President Obama himself but the people who came out to hear him speak.  There was a real sense of patriotism--lots American flags and other patriotic clothing belying the conservative trope about how liberals hate America.  Everyone was remarkably patient--there was virtually no complaining even as the heat continued to become ever more oppressive.  A few people actually collapsed and had to be taken away by medical personnel.  Still, people were uniformly helpful and positive.  The volunteers worked tirelessly to bring us free bottles of water and provided us with campaign signs we could use to shade ourselves from the sun. Throughtout, there was a mood of camaraderie among the crowd--a sense that we were all Americans and we were all in this together.

I couldn't help thinking that the mood would likely have been similar at a Mitt Romney gathering.  I can't help but believe the goodwill I encountered at the president's campaign appearance wasn't a "Democrat" thing, nor would a similar spirit at a Romney rally represent a "Republican" thing.  It's just an American thing, indeed simply a human thing.  Perhaps, as we enter the ever more hyper-partisan final stretch of this election season, it would be well for us to remember that the other side is not the Enemy--that indeed we are all Americans and we are all in this together.

Aug 25, 2012

The 6th Annual Inspirations List: 2012

The process of looking for heroes is an interesting and enriching experience.  I find that some heroes percolate for awhile.  On a daily basis they challenge and encourage me, and usually I know long in advance that they'll be on my list.  Others arrive as a flash of inspiration.  They do or say something that stops me in tracks--in a single moment they cause me to re-evaluate how I live my life and inspire me to live better.

This year's list is evenly split along gender lines--four men and four women.  The list features three teachers and two students.  One hero is a pastor, another is an attorney, and one is professional musician.  Most of them, I know personally--some, like Wayna and Pat, I see everyday; others like Aaron and Poupa I see only occasionally.  Mat and Meghan are strangers to me and are probably used to acclaim from every corner, such that one more tribute might not mean very much.  But mine is one of the many lives they've touched and I honor them too.

The following individuals will join 92 others to create a roster of 100 Heroes as my students prepare their own lists in anticipation of our third annual Heroes Reception to be held in February 2013.  As always I encourage you to keep an eye out for your own heroes and inspirations and find a way to let them know how they've impacted your life.

Pastor Joel Johnson
Wayna Gray
Meghan Vogel
Mat Kearney
Aaron Knowlton
Poupa Marashi
Benin Lee II
Pat Fountain

 Joel Johnson
I’m inspired by his cheerful willingness to lend a hand

Pastor Johnson can’t be bothered. Or so it seems to me.  By “can’t be bothered” I mean that it doesn’t seem possible to bother him.  Call him up with a question over at the conference office, ask him to drive the bus for hours after he’s just finished traveling for days, ask him to help you plan a class trip, whatever it is you never get the feeling you are putting him out even though you know you must be.  There are lots of people who will grudgingly lend you a hand, never letting your forget what an imposition it is and what a favor you’re doing for them.  But Pastor Johnson is one of those rare folks who seem to really mean it when he says he’s happy to help.

Wayna Gray
I'm inspired by her passion for excellence

Wayna is great because she never settles for "good enough."  In every aspect of her life, Wayna is seeking to be and do better.  Whether it's her teaching, her love and compassion for her students, her walk with the Lord, and yes, even her focus on living a balanced life that puts things first, Wayna is like an Olympic athlete.  She's always striving to be stronger, go faster, reach higher.    As a result, her classroom is a place suffused with energy, love, and the expectation of greatness.  With Wayna Gray, it's not about perfection, it's about excellence.

Meghan Vogel
I'm inspired by her compassion

There are so many things she could have done.  She could have crossed the finish line and then run back to check on her competitor.  She could have paused to check on her, and yelled for the medical staff to come over.  She could have just kept running, thankful that she wasn't going to be dead last after all.  But Meghan Vogel did none of those things.  Instead she stopped, lifted up a fallen foe, and carried her across the finish line.  Meghan even made sure that her competitor crossed the finish line ahead of her, as she surely would have had she not collapsed.  Meghan's compassionate act touched a nation as news of her heroic act went viral.  But if you asked her, I'm sure she'd say "anyone would have done the same."  But the fact is anyone didn't do it--Meghan did.  She proved that you can finish last and still be a winner. (This website has a great video that shows Meghan's heroic moment and also includes a brief interview with her right after it happened.  Take a second look and note how hesitant so many others seem to be about what to do. I want to be like Meghan and step up without hesitation when someone is in need).

Mat Kearney
I'm inspired by his music

It's undeniable, how brilliant his music is.  That's how I felt the first time I heard a tune by Mat Kearney, and that's how I've felt ever since.  The acoustic guitar, the neofolk singer-song writer vibe, the catchy melodies--he's one of the finest crafters of pop hooks around--the occasional hip-hop flavored rhymes are perhaps common enough. But the way Mat combines those elements and pairs them with lyrics that bring a fresh take on life is truly unique.  Since I first heard Mat's music in the summer of 1997, his songs have been an integral part of my life and a sort of Official Music of Barbara and I's relationship.  His song "Life Time" from his earliest years has long been the "Theme Song" for my life.

Does the music reflect the man? I can't say for sure.  I've only seen him in concert three times and met him once briefly.  But if the songs indeed reflect the heart of the man then Mat Kearney is, like David, a man after God's own heart, a contemporary psalmist capturing the presence of God in the joy, heartache, romance, loneliness  love, struggle, and and peace of life as we know it.

Aaron Knowlton
I'm inspired by his unselfish example

"Every hand went up."  That's how Aaron described his 8th grade class's response when he asked if they'd be willing to help my 8th grade class with some last-minute funds for our class trip.  The kids didn't know each other.  Aaron's students were in Redlands, California; mine were in Columbus, Ohio.  His students would gain nothing by their gift, my students would gain a rich experience in New York.  Yet, every hand went up and in short order some of their hard-earned money was on it's way to us.  I was touched by Aaron and his wife, Joyce's quick response when they heard about the tight spot my class was in.  But more than that I was moved to return to a more charitable spirit of leadership with my own 8th grade class that I'd let slip for a number of years.  An 8th grade class gift--something my graduating class would give to the school, to leave behind as their legacy--used to be a regular part of my class fundraising plan.  Somewhere along the way that charitable urge got lost.  The budget was too tight, we barely had enough for the trip it was--the excuses came easily.  But Aaron's example drew me up short and convicted me it was time to get back to making the 8th grade year not about how much we could get, but about how much we can give.   This year my students will raise funds to give as well as go, and when we present our gift to our school next May, it will  be in honor of and in thanks to Aaron Knowlton.

Poupa Marashi
I'm inspired by her generous spirit towards others

I'm trying to imagine Poupa talking negatively about others and I just can't. It's not just that she's a positive person, though she does seem to be.  It's not that she's always nice, though she's that too. Too many of us think that "being real" means being unkind, harsh, and uncharitable.  But I want to "be real" the way Poupa is real.  We spent an evening earlier this summer reminiscing on old times, and not once did she utter a snide remark, offer a careless joke at someone else's expense, or engage in mean-spirited gossip.  As we brought up old classmates and acquaintances, she always seemed to have something generous to say about them-without any apparently "trying to be nice."  Poupa and I hadn't had much contact, other than the usual Facebook friendship, until we met up for the first time in 18 years this summer, but our friendship seemed constant.  Perhaps because, judging by how Poupa views, others I  know that her generosity of spirit towards me is 100% genuine.

Benin Lee II
I'm inspired by his leadership

Benin doesn't need a title or office to lead.  Most people can learn leadership skills, but only a few are born leaders.  Benin is one of those few.  There are a lot of misperceptions about leadership. People think leadership is about "being in charge."  They think it means telling other people what to do, or doing a lot of public speaking.  When I was sharing my choice of their former classmate with my students this past week, one student observed, "But he's younger than you!"--suggesting that I couldn't possibly view a mere youngster as a leader and someone I might look up to.  But the Bible tells us that "a little child shall lead them" and anyway Benin is hardly little--these days I have to look up at him, literally!   True leadership is demonstrated in standing up--taking the lead when no one else will.  True leadership is demonstrated when people want to do what you say, when you speak and others can't help but listen.  True leadership isn't about age or stature.  Ben is a true leader, one who recognizes like his comic-book hero Spiderman--that he has great power, and thus, great responsiblity.  As someone who as a teacher, holds a title of leadership I hope to lead not from that title, but from who I am, just as Ben does.

Pat Fountain
I'm inspired by her humble service

"That's not my job" isn't in Pat's vocabulary.  Though she doesn't put it in to words, she demonstrates by her actions that she is here to serve. As my classroom aide last school year, she was an indispensable help to me and the students.  No matter what I needed, she was ready to lend a hand. She was willing to work with any student who would let her help.  And she did this all without complaint, even when it was difficult and when her efforts went unappreciated.  I'm sure there were days when she wondered whether it was worth it, whether she was making a difference at all, and yet she kept on serving.  If the "greatest among you is the servant of all," then Pat Fountain is one of the greatest people I've ever known, and a true King's Daughter.

See Past Inspiration Honorees--click on the following links:

My Personal Influences: Inspirations 2007

The Second Annual Inspirations List: 2008

The Third Annual Inspirations List: 2009

The Fourth Annual Inspirations List: 2010

The Fifth Annual Inspirations List: 2011