Month: August 2012


Another summer day has come and gone away in even Paris and Rome… and I wanna go home. I miss you, you know.

–Blake Shelton, “Home”

Blake Shelton’s song “Home” took on a whole new meaning when I got back from Europe two summers ago, and this week, it’s different still. It’s insane that, while standing on a pristine beach in Micronesia, pieces of your thoughts and unidentified longings can be everywhere else.

I grew up travelling, so living out of a suitcase feels like second nature. But it feels really good to get back. To cook in a kitchen I know, drive my own car, run a 5k over a familiar trail, register for a last year at the university that now feels strangely familiar. It’s so easy to live here.

I’m sure of my heavenly home, but not my earthly one. If it’s where family is, then I’m lost. I have too much family aeons apart in every way that matters. If it’s family in Christ, it’s equally scattered around the world… and if home is where the cliché heart is, mine is all over the place.

If home is where I’m most comfortable, then it’s probably  here in Greenville, SC. But comfort is highly overrated. As a matter of fact, I’m about to come to the conclusion that I let myself get too comfortable here in the United States. Too willing to watch people and days pass me by.

Jesus didn’t die on the cross so His followers could live comfortably at home.

I should be asleep.

It’s 1:45 a.m. in the Marianas, and I have a flight to catch in about four hours. It’s a long way from Guam to South Carolina. Lots of hours in airports. It’s a good thing I like to fly, because there are too many airplanes between me and home.

The weird thing about this summer is that, though it took me all over the world, the three unplanned days I spent in Guam piqued my curiosity more than any other place I visited. I owe a friend I (admittedly) don’t know very well a sincere thank-you for the random invitation that brought me here.Image

I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve got to come back. I don’t know when. Or how. Or why. Should I come to teach, as a missionary suggested to me this evening? To get a random job and serve in a local church for awhile?

Saipan reminded me that real ministry is often very uncomfortable. When you realize that being in the minority isn’t always fun, when the novelty of eating Chinese food with chopsticks wears off and you just want a cheeseburger, when you’re learning more Korean cuss words than your ESL students are learning English…

So, wow, maybe sometimes following Him is actually a sacrifice. Up until this point it has seemed more like a big, fun adventure, with some world travel thrown in for good measure. Woo-hoo, nothing like a sanctified vacation with some good deeds to give you the warm fuzzies.

Sometimes the ministry is like stargazing on the perfect summer night, a hug from a young child with whom you shared the gospel, a sacred, quiet chorus of “Nearer, Still Nearer” at the end of a week of street ministry in a Mexican village. But that’s not all it is.

Sometimes it’s the touch of peace you feel when you fall asleep on a floor surrounded by three-inch bugs, and you know that it’s only grace that allows you to sleep another night. Sometimes it’s the peace, the reassurance, the melody. But sometimes it’s not.

Either way, it’s worth it.

But… what of Guam? Between hiking, swimming, sleeping, reading, visiting with new friends, and tearing up my hands while climbing the flinty ash-gray volcanic rock, I feel like I’ve only touched the surface of this place. Who are the local people here?

What is this place like when you get past the slow-as-molasses customer service, the tourist industry, and the $5.10/gallon gasoline?

One thing I do know: I’m going back to the States tomorrow, and by God’s grace, in the next few months I’m going to get my finances, responsibilities, and general life-stuff in order. I’ll do the whole senior year thing one more time, get my degree, and move on. To somewhere.

Years ago, I made the Lord a promise. I told Him I’d go anywhere, even if it meant going alone when I’d rather share it, even if it meant giving up the melody, the comfort, the fellowship I’ve come to treasure. The more I travel, the more I realize that could be much harder than it seemed.

I’m still in.

True stories.

I’m not usually into films. I much prefer reading stories told with well-chosen words than watching some stranger’s subjective interpretation. I’ll take my own subjective interpretation, thank you.

But I stayed up late to watch some movies last night, and I really liked “The End of the Spear.”

Maybe it’s because it’s almost biographical, making a true story seem tangibly real. It tells the story of the four men who were martyred while trying to make contact with the notoriously violent Waodani tribe in Ecuador.

That movie made me remember stuff. Like… I really, really used to adore my dad. And how conspicuously absent he was for so many years. Of all the things I could have taken from the story, a missing father seems like an unlikely choice. Why not be inspired to forgiveness, personal sacrifice, or abandon-it-all service to the Lord? Any of those would make more sense.

But the part that made me cry and left me completely without words was the part where grown-up Steve went back to Ecuador and found the bright yellow model airplane his dad had helped him to build as a child. When he stood on the sandbar where his dad was killed. When he remembered.

That scene made me cry. Movies don’t make me cry. Ever. But that scene made me cry.

Part of me says that I deserve way more sympathy than that kid. At least his father left–died–to serve the Lord. The only reason he didn’t come back was because he was killed. Short of death, nothing could have kept Nick Saint from his family.

Plenty of things could have kept my father from me. And they did.

I’ll never forget hearing my grandmother saying that, though divorce is sad, at least none of us had cancer. At least no one was killed in a car wreck by a drunk driver. We were all still alive. Her theory? That alive and shattered is preferable to dead.

That’s a thought I’ll never be able to come to terms with.

Friends. 8,000 miles away.

I’m going to miss this summer like a mixed-up memory.

Part of me says it’s self-defeatingly stupid to make good friends who live an ocean–and a continent–away.

View from the top of Mount Tapochau, Saipan, CNMI

It’d be easier, safer, to be polite and kind without getting attached. Knowing that we’re family in Christ is priceless. But with a few people, “I’ll see you in heaven” doesn’t come close to cutting it. Why go to the trouble?

…as if I’d ever take the easier or safer option.

Anybody have a Kleenex?

Maybe next summer will bring me back to the Marianas. Maybe…

ESL Class, week 5: You’re gonna want this back.

With every week of ESL camp, my resources get downgraded.

When I came to Saipan to teach, I started out with a nice big classroom full of colorful posters and even some teaching materials. In my ignorance, I bemoaned the lack of a curriculum.

That was back when I still had construction paper and dry erase markers.

Sometime during week 3, I was moved to a classroom with twelve desks. I had fifteen students at that time. We crammed them in. I paid what seemed like an exorbitant amount for dry-erase markers and a few teaching materials.

Today, school started officially and I got a classroom that reminds me of a tiny airplane. It seats 10, five single-file desks in a line on each side. There’s a bookshelf that moonlights as a door; a row of actual built-in shelves rotates in the wall to open into an adjoining room. Narnia isn’t on the other side. I checked.

It’s far enough from the office that I have no internet connection, but the aircon works, so I’m not complaining.

One more week here. A few more days of teaching ESL classes, then another of those infinitely long days with several long flights and almost-as-long layovers to take me back to my home in Greenville, SC.

I’ll miss the ocean. The sunsets. Many of the people. I’m starting to realize that making friends an ocean away from home is much like asking for a less-than-happy ending.

Paradise is rather wet today.

Not wet in the terms of sparkling turquoise-emerald waters, but the kind of wet that falls from the sky and makes your dress shoes sink into the unpaved streets.

As I write this, the students in my beginning-level ESL class are hard at work on sudoku and word-search puzzles. It’s the last hour of class. The only sounds are the erasers rubbing out wrong answers, a soft swoosh of steady showers on the roof above, and the hum of the air conditioner.

Today, a rambunctious Korean kid did his homework for the first time in two weeks. And almost came close to passing a quiz.

Today, no one has been sent to the principal’s office (score!) and when I led songs during the chapel hour, the kids actually sang.

Did you catch that? They sang! The über-mature mini adults in my class sang for real. Happiness.

And then. And then they came close to murdering each other over a game of rock-paper-scissors during lunch break. I really don’t want to witness that kind of homicide at this point in my life.

The rain is sounding really good right now. Like I need to go sink my toes into some of those unpaved streets as soon as this class is over.



A new kind of perfect afternoon

Garapan, Saipan. 4:30 p.m. 08/04/2012.

I think at this point in my career I’ll rethink my definition of a perfect Saturday afternoon.

As I write this, I’m sitting on an empty stretch of beach right off Beach Road.

It’s not the kind of beach where tourists go to spend a day. It’s only about fifteen feet off the road, a bit cluttered with small rocks and sea glass. There are banana, pine, and plumeria trees behind me and blue-green-navy-teal-turquoise glassy waters ahead. I can see the military ships stationed off the coast and white caps in the distance where the open sea’s breakers fold over the coral reef.

There’s a big boomerang-shaped cloud bank headed my way, followed by what looks like a smoky veil of rain showers slipping over the waters.

A few minutes ago, a stick-thin local man walked by with a gauzy fishing net slung over his shoulder. He bared his teeth at me in a huge smile when his eyes met mine. Cast his net into the shallows, then pulled it in as though through molasses before continuing around the curve of the beach. Staring at the shore as though something precious was to be found there.

Maybe there was.

Open-air street market: Chew fearlessly.

“What is that?”


“How about that?”


I’m learning to stop asking about foods around here, because “bread,” “meat,” and “vegetable” are the most specific responses I’ve come to expect from anyone I ask.

When I was a kid, I was pretty much the pickiest kid on the block–and old habits die hard. I think I need to meditate on this for awhile.

Close eyes. Breathe in. Breathe out. Ommmm. Embrace the mystery meat. Ommmm. 

Embracing the mystery meat (and bread, and green spinach-y stuff) sometimes comes at a price.

“What is the stuff that looks like cooked mold?”

“Oh, it’s a slimy, flat mushroom they peel off the trees and then boil.”

Why would anyone (anyone?) voluntarily choose to eat a fungus? This I simply don’t understand.

Either way, the open-air street market is The Place To Be on Thursday evenings in Saipan. It’s all there.

Every Thursday, vendors set up their own booths–everything from American BBQ to Asian and local specialties–to cater to the tourists and residents. There are also affordable local/handmade souvenir booths along one stretch of the market space.

It took a few minutes to come to terms with the combination of flies, smoke, and mouth-watering smells. The food is amazing–and cheap. Six choices of meats, rices, tofu, veggies, fish, and innumerable side menu items for just five dollars.

Resolution for next Thursday: Go on an empty stomach. Choose the six most unfamiliar-looking dishes available. Shut up and chew.