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

Aug 17, 2012


I never think to take pictures.

Some of the best moments of this summer passed without photographic record.  Perhaps it's not so surprising--I'm so much "in the moment" that I don't even consider documenting it.  In the absence of photos, I'm left with mental souvenirs--memories of moments of joy and affection with people who mean the world to me.  Long, relaxed conversations, with the best of friends, often centered around good food.  Times marked by laughter, reminisces, and a warm feeling of intimacy.  And it's not that the conversation is always "light"--there may be moments of deep sharing, thoughtful discussion, and self-revelation too.  It's the late nights and long afternoons, the road trip drives and meals that last till the chairs are up and they're sweeping the floor.  Those times can't be captured well on camera any way, but in my mind the pictures are clearer and speak more eloquently than any physical photo.  Let me share a few of my souvenirs with you:

On a perfect evening in June my high school classmate, Poupa "Jenny" Marashi, invited us to join a small gathering at her aunt and uncle's home.  I hadn't seen Jenny since she was a student at the Ohio State University 18 years ago.  Though she currently lives in New York City with her husband, daughter, and soon to be born son, she was back in Columbus for a few days visiting relatives and catching up with college friends.    We enjoyed one of the loveliest evenings of the summer with Jenny and her family and friends.  Our children hit it off, and while we didn't know most of the people when we arrived, everyone's open warmth and generous hospitality made us feel like old friends by the time we left.

More recently, I spent most of the first full week of August in Nashville, Tennessee attending the North American Division teacher's convention.  I'll likely share more about that in an upcoming blog, but certainly a highlight was the precious time I spent with good friends.  My best friend since we were 15, J Carlos, and I drove down and back together and were roommates at the convention.  During our time together we hashed over the latest music, dissected our careers, and solved the problems of world.   I also spent a nice dinner catching up with Kathy Stair, a former student missionary to Saipan who helped start the REAL Christian Theater drama ministry back in 2000-2001.  And for the first time since 2007  I met up with Grant Graves, my great friend from our days on Saipan.  It was if we'd seen each other just five days, rather than five years, earlier.  We fell right into exceedingly rich conversation.  We always go deep and I learn so much from him. He's smart, but humble and courageously honest. Grant really listens and he always has a fresh perspective and unique insight into the topic at hand. It was so great to see him again and it was a pleasure to meet his lovely wife Riley.  I was touched by her warmth on our first meeting and her sincere expression of appreciation for my friendship with Grant.

The Saturday night at Jenny's and the week with J, Kathy, and Grant book-ended a special summer with loved ones, including a wonderful week in Portland, Oregon with the Carol Paez and her kids.  We took our annual trek to Portland early this year as Ezra's arrival will keep our hands full at the time of our usual Thanksgiving visit.  This year's trip was marked by some truly special time with the Paez family.  My favorite souvenirs from our time with Carol and the kids include our first night in Oregon, when we sat on her patio eating delicious food and letting the stress of the trans-continental flight fall away.  We talked until darkness fell.  Later in the week, Babs, Carol, and I shared a classic late night conversation in Carol's living room, and finally on our second Friday evening, I spent some quality time with Wylie and Keisha Paez, former students of mine, now all grown up, reminiscing around the big kitchen island.

Best friends. I was so happy that Babs and Carol had so much time to spend together on our visit.

Our boy was asking for Keisha all week long and was so thrilled when she finally arrived Friday evening, July 20, 2012

"Big Sister" and "Little Feller" making a cake together on a lazy vacation afternoon

Another keepsake of our visit   a great evening with another friend from Saipan, Judith Edwards, and her husband Evan.  We had a delicious dinner at a Lebanese restaurant in Portland followed by gelato at a shop a few doors down from the restaurant.  It was great to see Judith again and a genuine pleasure to get know Evan.

With Judith and Evan Schneider, Wednesday evening, July 18, 2012.

Finally, there was a serendipitous afternoon with some of Barbara's dearest friends who we hadn't seen in 14 years, Clari and Darchelle Worley.   It was our last day in Portland and we were at the Oregon Conference's annual camp meeting in Gladstone.  We had arrived late, just in time for Elijah to catch the tail end of the children's program, and we were just getting ready to grab a golf cart shuttle to the far-flung lot where we were parked, when I looked up and saw a familiar face just ahead of us--it was Darchelle.  She was there with her parents, and Clari and her family were on the way.  We immediately changed our plans for the day and spent a joyful afternoon with them instead.  Thankfully, with this gathering we had the presence of mind to snap a few pictures right before we parted ways, promising not to let another 14 years go by before we met again.
I used to call Barbara the "fifth Worley" as she seemed so much like the four sisters of the Worley clan.  Here she is with Darchelle on the left and Clari on the right.  We may try to make it up to Michigan for Andrews Alumni weekend in September and maybe then we can get a picture with these three and the other two sisters, Alicia and Sally, as well.

I think Darchelle was singing to our son here--he loved it.  Clari's second  oldest son is standing on the right.

From left to right, Babs, the Feller, Clari's husband Doug, Clari holding her  two older boys (the twins, just a couple of months old were more than we could manage for this hasty group photo), me, and Darchelle.

Clari with her husband Doug Sproul and one of the twins. It was great to meet Doug.  He's a really cool guy and fits perfectly into the wild world of the Worleys!

Such moments aren't possible with everyone.  There must be a deep level of trust between all involved and a sense of permission to speak freely, knowing that one won't be rejected or judged, offended or offensive.  There can be no worries about making an impression, showing off, or being "good enough."  There is often the sense that the passage of time is of no consequence--years can go by between friends, and yet when you meet again it's as if no time at all has passed and you simply "pick up where you left off."

I'm convinced that we must treasure these moments as they happen.  After all, like it or not, "life is just happening" and the chances to be in the company of the ones we love are precious.  Let us make it a point to collect as many of these souvenirs as we can.

Here's to the twilight
Here's to the memories
These are my souvenirs
My mental pictures of everything

Here's to the late nights
Here's to the fire light
These are my souvenirs
My souvenirs

Vacation with Friends: Pictures from Portland

The Columbia River as seen from the top of Multnomah Falls just outside of Portland, Oregon.  Sunday, July 15, 2012.
The second half of our two week summer vacation trip was our annual jaunt to Oregon to spend time with Carol Paez and her family.  We arrived on Friday evening, July 13 and left very early Sunday morning, July 22.

They say this is the perfect time of year to visit Portland, and indeed the weather was quite nice while we were there, though just a tad cooler than we'd expected.  Still it was comfortable, and Carol wanted to make sure we made the most of our time there.  Honestly though, I was happy just to be with friends and actually welcomed a rare opportunity to laze about and not do a whole lot of anything.

Nevertheless, we managed to fit in some Official Fun Stuff on our Oregon trip.  A recap of some of the highlights:

A classic western Oregon vista.  I took this photo on a run Sunday afternoon, July 15.

Late Sunday afternoon, July 15, Carol, Babs, the Feller, and I zipped over to one of the Portland areas key  sites for visitors, the spectacular Multnomah Falls.  Elijah was asleep in his car seat when we arrived so Babs stayed in the car with him while Carol and I hiked to the top.

Looking down from the top of Multnomah Falls.  I was terrified of dropping my cell phone, so thus I only got  this one lackluster photo of the drop.
 On Monday, Carol had to take her youngest son, "Cool Guy" to Seattle where he was meeting up with some relatives, so we were basically at home for the day.  It was a perfect Do Nothing Day!

Tuesday was much the same, though Carol and Babs took Elijah to some sort of kids park.

On Wednesday evening, we met up with Judith Edwards Schneider, our old pal from Saipan.  We missed her wedding in June, but were glad we could catch up with her and her husband Evan then. (More on that in the next entry).

We spent Thursday morning at Powell's bookstore in downtown Portland, and had a nice lunch at the Energy Bar

Friday, I took Elijah to the Portland Children's Museum while Babs and Carol had a Girls Day Out.  Photos of Elijah at the museum are up on his blog.  In the evening before sundown Babs and I caught a showing of the A Friend for the End of the World.

Sabbath, July 21, we spent the day at Oregon Camp Meeting in Gladstone (see next blog for more on how wonderfully that turned out).

The Endorsement:  The Energy Bar
The food was great and the service was outstanding.  The owner seemed to be the only person in the place at the time and he worked hard--prepping the food and drinks, taking the money, and serving us.  When he forgot one of our items and had to be reminded, he threw in a couple of huge and delicious chocolate chip cookies.  The turkey chili was delicious and the smoothies were unbeatable.  If you're looking for something light and reasonably priced at lunch check out the Energy Bar.

Aug 10, 2012

Vacation with Family

On the Beach. Tuesday, July 10, 2012, Anna Maria Island, Florida.

This summer I've not had much of a vacation.  I know for all you non-teachers out there that sounds pretty spoiled of me.  After all most people are lucky to get two weeks out of the entire year, much less a whole summer plus Thanksgiving, Christmas, Spring Break, and various federal holidays.  I get that, after all Babs is one of those regular people.

Still the summer seemed particularly short this year.  There was post week for the first week of June (which for me extended halfway into the second week of June as I couldn't get all my stuff done in the first week).  The third week of June was free--Elijah and I had some quality time that week, although three days out of the week (and every week this summer) I spent a couple hours tutoring students to make extra money to pay for all the new baby-related bills that are already pouring in.  Then I had a week of class for my final course in my master's degree in Education.  This was the only non-online course of the program, and we met everyday all day for the last week of June.

The first week of July was broken up by the power outage and preparations for our summer travel.  I knew that when we got back from our trips, I'd have essentially a week left and then summer--for me--would be over.  So as it turned out, our trips constituted what felt like the only real vacation of the summer for me.  For a little while I could finally sleep late, do some serious reading, watch some movies, spend relaxing time with my wife and son, and on top of be with some of the most precious people in my life.

The best part of vacation.  The beach was wonderful, but the best part was simply being with family. 

The first half of our vacation was with family.  We flew down to Florida to see Mom, Vince, Dawn & Jim and their kids, and grandma.  Most of the extended family was away during the time we were there, but we had some wonderful time with my immediate family.  Dawn and Jim spent much of their time hanging out at Mom's house, which must have been quite a sacrifice given that they have two kids under the age of two, and I'm sure it would have been easier for them to be in their own home.  I appreciated their efforts to make the most of our time together.

On Monday, we made our long-awaited annual trek to the Gulf Coast to spend a few days on Anna Maria Island.  It was absolutely wonderful--about as close as you can get to the feel of Saipan this side of Hawaii.
We stopped off in Tampa to visit the aquarium there and to meet up with Saipan friends Ken & Crystal Pierson and their two daughters, and arrived at Anna Maria Island around six in the evening--early enought to get a few hours on the beach before sundown.
The cousins check out the stingrays at the Florida Aquarium in Tampa, FL. Monday, July 9, 2012.   

My brother Vince enjoying Florida's Gulf Coast (or a picture thereof anyway.  This was a backdrop at the aquarium. We'd experience the real thing in  just a few hours)

The Piersons!  We enjoyed an all too-brief reunion with our Saipan friends Ken and Crystal Pierson and their two daughters.  They're on annual leave for the summer and we spent a little time with them at the Aquarium in Tampa and then had lunch with them.  It was such a joy for us to catch up with them and all the latest news from our island home.   The time was too short--Babs and I spent the rest of the week reminding each other of things we forgot to ask the Piersons about Saipan--but delightful nonetheless. 

Our remaining two days we spent as much time as we could in the sun, the sand, and the water.  I almost felt guilty if I spent too much time inside when we had such a short time to be at the beach.  Still, I managed some lesiurely reading on the couch and a little napping too.

Sunset at Anna Maria Island. Monday evening, July 9, 2012

My brother-in-law Jim (no pun intended!) taking in the view.  We stayed at the Anna Maria Island Inn again this year, and to be honest it's just about perfect.  Nice, comfortable apartments right on the beach.  This year we had one unit and Dawn's family had the other so we had plenty of space.  We'd come back again next year except there is something in the units--mold maybe? Though none is visible--that gets mom's allergies going.  Both year's she's been pretty miserable for the length of our stays, so we'll probably have to look elsewhere next year.
Our Little Feller with his best stuffed-animal pal Elephant Elephant.   I took this photo mainly in a vain attempt to capture the warmth of those special moments you can only have with those closest to you.  The golden, comforting light of Jim and Dawn's unit, the sound of familiar voices laughing and talking, food being prepared in the kitchen.  None of this really comes through in the photo, but it was the most special part of a special time together.
Beach Scenes

I never tire of the beach.  So I've got some of my favorite beach photos from our time at Anna Maria Island. Enjoy.  Or skim past them if you like.  I know they'll bring me comfort on cold snowy days here in Ohio.

Morning,Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A week or so prior to our arrival there was a tropical storm that just sat over  Florida for about a week.  According to the innkeeper at Anna Maria Island  Inn, the storm surge washed away much of the beach.  As a result the soft white sand that was on the beaches last year was gone when we arrived, replaced with a coarser, shell-filled sand.  The storm also carved out numerous tide pools like the one you see our son wading in above.  These pools would nearly dry up during low tide and would be refreshed by more water from the sea during high tide.  The children spent a lot of their time playing in these pools.
Afternoon, Tuesday, July 10, 2012.  In the late afternoon a thunderstorm began making its way towards our area.  We snuck in a quick swim before the storm got too close, and also got some of these pictures.  Again the pictures don't begin to capture the majestic beauty of this storm rolling in over the land and sea.

One last dip in the ocean. Wednesday morning, July 11, 2012

Wednesday around noon we drove back to Orlando and ended the day with a baby shower Dawn and Mom planned for us.  They were calling it a "sprinkle" rather than a shower since it was supposed to be rather small, but for a supposedly small shower we were deluged with a lots of great gifts for baby Ezra and had a wonderful time with the friends and family that came.

Family at the baby shower at my mom's house. Wednesday, July 11, 2012.   From left to right: My cousins Yvette and her brother Nabih, sister Dawn, Uncle Roland, and Aunt Colleen.
Our Little Feller looks a bit perturbed by the new arrival on the way!
We got tons of great stuff for Ezra!
I find my brother Vince looks very "Thomson-like" in this photo. Something reminiscent of  Uncle Robert or even Grandpa in his posture siting maturely and solemnly while his nephews play around him.
Getting back in practice with my newest nephew, Ethan. Next time we visit Florida he'll have a playmate! 
The Endorsement:   Anna Maria Island Inn

This is our second year staying at the Anna Maria Island Inn.  The accommodations are great, the location is perfect.  Other than my mom's mysterious allergies we have zero complaints about the place. There may be fancier places on the island, but both my mom and sister have done pretty exhaustive research of the various rentals available on Anna Maria Island and both have concluded the that this place really is the best total package of the things we're looking for in a beachfront location.  The video on their website gives a great feel for the place.