Friday, August 29, 2008

Bittersweet Start of School

The air at orientation buzzed with grand expectations, nervousness, and triumph; triumph over the hurdles that had been successfully jumped, allowing admittance into PIBC. For many of our students, the greatest hurdle had been achieving the minimum 450 points on the TOEFL exam (test for English fluency). And, of course, college admittance represents a major milestone, the opening of a door that will change one's life forever; ergo the grand expectations and nervousness. The awareness that we, the faculty at PIBC, will play such a huge part in this milestone, was sobering, but also inspiring. What a privilege to be a part of the lives of these students during this critical, life-altering time.

As I reflected on this, it hit me; at that
very moment, 6000 miles away, our son was attending his orientation at Westmont College. At that very moment in California, Westmont was having the student/parent welcome meal. And we were not to be there. Our son, with his eyes filled with his hopes and dreams, his grand expectations, nervousness and triumph, would not have his parents there to share in it with him. This was a sad reality. I could vividly imagine our son's expression as he saw his dorm room for the first time, as he entered the dining hall, and as he would sit enraptured listening to the welcome address. My heart ached to squeeze his hand, and when his nervousness would flare, I would encourage him with my eyes, "Yes! You CAN do this, Teyler." I would want to meet his roommate and to feel assured he was rooming with someone of good character. I would want to see where he would lay his head each night. My heart would sing as I would observe the joy and triumph in his countenance at having, by the grace of God, vaulted the hurdles of a learning disability and astronomical college expenses with little financial aid. These were all things I would forgo because of God's call to invest in the lives of students in Micronesia.

Ironically, I would give anything to be at Westmont with our son; and yet, I would give anything to be here, where God has called me. How strange to have two opposite desires both equally potent. It's like my heart is divided exactly in half. And the result is the feeling, or perhaps the reality, of a broken heart. And this makes sense to me. Sometimes there is a dichotomy between God's will and our human ways. We live in the world of flesh and family, and yet we have chosen to follow a God whose ways are higher than our ways; whose thoughts are higher than our thoughts. And so, I take the two pieces of my heart, and lay them on the altar of our God, and I offer up the sacrifice of praise. Yes, I said praise. You see, despite the pain of a broken heart, there is no joy, and no peace, like that found where God leads. And so I say with the hymn writer, Edwin Hatch (1835-1889):
Breathe on me, Breath of God,
Fill me with life anew,
That I may love what Thou dost love,
And do what Thou wouldst do.

Upon seeing his dorm room, Teyler gives us the hang loose sign (on left); but upon purchasing all the books he would need for his classes, his expression changes to one of a deer caught in the headlights!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Guam's Real Beauty

As a tropical island just 13 degrees north of the equator, Guam has its share of beauty, although it was blasted down to a raw rock in 1944 and still shows signs from human wear and tear (not to mention the devastation left behind from several wicked typhoons). However, having been here for a year now, we've come to the firm conclusion that Guam's real beauty is its people. Just yesterday, for some random reason, we had three encounters with Guam's most beautiful asset.

Yesterday marked our 23rd anniversary, so I decided to take Kar
yn to a hotel buffet for their lunch special and leave the kids in the dust. Christian drove off with the girls one way, and we headed the other. I was pretty certain I knew where to turn, but was wrong. Contrary to what you've heard about men and directions, I don't mind asking, so at a stop sign, we rolled down the window and asked the gal next to us if she could direct us to Leo Palace. She obviously felt the pressure of the light about to change, so she said, "Let me just pull over and give you directions." Instead of asking us to follow her straight, where she was headed, she swung left down a side-road and led us to the nearest pull-off. There she leisurely explained how to get to Leo Palace. It was certainly out of her way to do so; she would now have to turn around and wait at a light to get back onto the road she was traveling, but she didn't seem to mind. Karyn and I looked at each other, laughed, and said, "Can you imagine someone doing that in California?"

After t
he buffet at the hotel, we wedged our bloated bodies from the chairs and headed to the car. Strolling along, we noticed what the locals call "sleeping grass," which retracts when touched. Up alongside us came a golf cart driven by a local employee. He made a smooth stop and began carrying on a leisurely conversation with us about sleeping grass, explaining what it is and why the locals like to extract it (it has tiny hidden barbs). With the nicest attitude and willingness to chat, he sat there and smiled, and finally motored off. The people here love to stop and tell us about their island and culture.

We spent the end of the day lying on the beach and reading, an activity we could so easily enjoy more frequently, but rarely have the time. Strolling to our destination, we bumped into Lola (our friend from church who gives us bananas), and the typical small-talk ensued. We mentioned how many net fishermen we'd seen working the shoreline that day. Lola explained they were after a particular one-inch-long local fish that is fried and eaten whole. (Apparently they taste like corn chips once fried!) She went on to say she had just eaten some. It turned out that she and her friends saw some local guys net fishing these tiny creatures and frying them. They went over to the fisherman and asked if they could buy some, but were told they weren't for sale. However, a few minutes later, in true Guam fashion, the fishermen showed up to give them a plate full of the delicacies. "Do you know them?" we asked; although we should have known the answer. Of course not. That's just the way the people are.

Over and over we've experienced this hospitality here on Guam. There's nothing quite like it anywhere we've been. Whether it's someone next to us at a park having a picnic and giving us all the leftovers or the scores of people camped around a parade sincerely asking us to come and share in their food and drink, we are convinced that Guam's greatest beauty is its people.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Prayer, Island Style

As I mentioned in an earlier post, during the summer, many (most?) of the faculty at PIBC travel to th
e States to raise support and visit family. This allows a unique period of time when the remaining faculty and staff at PIBC is small enough to fit into a colleague's home for our bi-weekly prayer meeting. (During the school year the prayer meetings are held in the large classroom on campus.) Karyn and I had the Privilege of hosting the last prayer meeting and I had to chuckle when I observed all the shoes lining the path leading to our door. True island style!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Repeating Junior High

I’ve attempted to write about this on several occasions but have deleted my writings several times because some things seem to be so deep they are difficult to express. Besides, I didn’t want to bore anybody or appear to be whining. But, perhaps tonight I will get onto this screen what is in my heart. We’ll see….

Think back to junior high (what they call middle school now days). For some of you, myself included, you get butterflies in your stomach even at the mention of the word. I remember in junior high simply not understanding the unspoken rules enough to figure out how to be accepted. Of course, I DESPERATELY wanted to fit in, but I simply never could. It was a terrifying predicament to be in. The ONLY way to be accepted was to expose oneself, and yet this held the greatest risk of emotional and social annihilation. There were so many hidden land mines: the possibility of using the wrong tone, the wrong word, the wrong timing, having the wrong shoes, socks or hair style; all were possible mines primed to explode in one’s face, shattering one’s meager and precarious self-esteem.

Well, for me, playing volleyball on Guam has felt similar to re-doing junior high. Pathetically, I don’t think I’m going through it much better than I did in junior high. There is only one place on Guam for women to play volleyball, and that only twice a week. So, like junior high, I am forced to attend—if I want to play (which if you know me, you know I do). The women are very talented and are very serious about the game; unfortunately, the WAY they play is different from how we play in California in MANY subtle ways. All these subtleties make me a DEFINITE outsider. As I drive the twenty minutes to the gym, my heart pounds and my hands sweat. If only I could figure out how to do it their way! If only I could know their unspoken rules and avoid the land mines. The subtle looks they give each other when I step on a land mine makes me want to crawl in a hole and cry. At other times, I want to scream at them and tell them what I think about their “dumb” rules. The humiliation is sometimes almost unbearable. It is this feeling of mortification that has been the impetus to many discussions with God.

As painful as this situation has been, there is something very powerful and positively life-altering about it. The last time I felt like an outcast was junior high. My birthday was yesterday and so I am reminded of how long ago it was that I last felt these feelings. The desire to feel accepted and to belong is incredibly strong. I had forgotten how strong. I had taken for granted my ability to walk into seemingly any situation and nearly effortlessly fit in. And now, I am the “foreigner,” the “outcast.” I have found that the best way for me to successfully navigate a night of volleyball with these women is to spend the twenty minutes driving to the gym praying. My prayer is, “God, help me be humble. Help me be teachable. Help me love these women more than I love myself.” It’s amazing and pitiful how difficult this is for me. It has caused me to see a side of myself that is disappointing; and yet, an aspect of my life that would otherwise go unchallenged is being conformed into the likeness of Christ. It has also been a poignant reminder of the painful isolation and rejection that so many people feel on a daily and even hourly basis and their desperate need for our Savior, who was despised and rejected. What an incredible forum volleyball provides to share the hope found in our God who will never leave us or forsake us.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Slumber Party

I haven't been to a slumber party since I was a child, but I attended one last night. Although similar to my childhood slumber parties in the giggling and frolicking and the number of bodies squished together in a room, this slumber party was markedly different in that it was all family members attending, and there was a marked undertone of impending loss. Like sand eking its way through an hour glass, the air was thick with the knowledge that there would soon be an end. By about 2:00 a.m. most of us had fallen asleep--a pleasant diversion from the pain of saying goodbye. Searing pain imploded when, at 4:15 a.m., the alarm clock shoved the reality of day and time in our faces. The hour glass was empty; we would be torn from each other for another year.

As I watched our daughters (8 and 11) cling to their brother (20) and beg him not to leav
e them, I hurt not only for our girls, but for the agonizing pain this plea caused our son. I watched as my mom displayed a calm and lightness that I knew belied her shattered heart--a parallel of my own feelings and my own external behavior. I wondered, "Will this saying goodbye ever get any easier?"

After the door closed and Eric headed for the airport with my mom and Teyler, I climbed back in bed and was talking to God, telling him of my pain and my trust in Him to comfort me. And then I heard Noelle's (8) soft whimpering. There she was, curled beside Katie (11), both of them clearly distressed. I sighed, I guess I would have to put my own feelings on the back burner and tend to theirs. It ended up being a good teaching moment to discuss how there is NOTHING that would ever cause us to make this decision to be separated from our family except our desire to follow Jesus. It was interesting to see their ability to grasp this, and surprising, the comfort this knowledge provided. So, today, we all feel a bit raw and a profound painful absence.

Noelle (8 years old), with her loss glistening in her tear-filled eyes, just requested, "Mommy, let's go to the beach today." I think that's a good idea. The solitude and beauty of the ocean is a healing place. It reminds us of the shelter we have in Jesus' arms.

Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer.
From the ends
of the
earth I call to you,
I call as my h
eart grows faint;
lead me to the rock that is higher than
For you have b
een my refuge,
a strong tower aga
inst the foe.
I long to dw
ell in your tent forever
and take refuge in the shelter of your w
alm 61:1-4

Saturday, August 2, 2008


Our entire family and Karyn's mother just returned yesterday from ten days on Palau where Eric was the speaker at a conference. This was a WONDERFUL time of experiencing first-hand the island from which many of our students come, as well as their culture, and their places of worship. We were also able to take a few days to do some SCUBA diving, kayaking, and hiking. We will write more later because this is our last day with our son and Karyn's mother as we have to take them to the airport at 4:30 a.m.