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Without a doubt, the last two years have been a precious gift to me. I have enjoyed the luxury of time to make the transition from SE Asia to the Caribbean and the freedom to travel and be with our kids and grandkids. Without this time to concentrate on my studies, I probably would still be at least a year away from completing my MA rather than heading off to convocation next month. This wass a demanding transition for Steve and it has been very helpful that I was free to handle things outside of work. However, that time has passed and it is time to move on.
Once the completion of my MA was in sight I began seriously praying about and exploring what that might be. I began making inquiries and submitting resumes in early October and long ago lost sight of just how many are out there. I looked at opportunities within TWR, paid positions here on the island and volunteer roles here and in other parts of the Caribbean. I even looked at taking some further education. I had some interviews but there are some unique challenges when it comes to obtaining a work permit on the island.
One of the first interviews was in October. It was a very promising one with Cayman International School but they were honest about the fact that it was a new, discretionary position and a decision to fill it would not be made until spring. It would be dependent on budget constraints, enrollment and whether there was a Caymanian candidate who could fill the position. This was always in the background but I still aggressively looked for other options in case it did not go well. It did go well, and I have been offered and accepted the position of Health Specialist at CIS.

This is a very exciting and also quite terrifying prospect. Along with the traditional school nurse responsibilities, I will be teaching Health to eight classes; three grade six, three grade seven and two grade eight. I readily admit that teaching is not something I ever envisioned myself choosing to attempt but have begun the process of shadowing some teachers, exploring curriculum and resources and planning for the school year. This will undoubtedly be the biggest learning curve I have ever faced but with God’s help, I have waded into deep waters before. I begin work on August 1st and like a teacher, I am looking forward to some summer travels before the new year starts.

Needless to say, we are  incredibly proud of all of our children and everyone of their accomplishments thrill our hearts. Over the past months we have watched in awe, but with very little actual understanding, of the work of our eldest son, Jonathan. It is best just to let him speak of this journey himself.

“The summer of Shelby is almost here. For the past 18 months Shelby has been coming together. It feels like a long time, but when you consider that this is a 1.0 product that wasn’t even imagined two years ago, and was only a crude prototype 6 months after that, its amazing how fast things have moved.

I’m in Germany this week, at Hannover Messe, the largest industry event of the year, where no less than 4 Shelby pre-release units are on the show floor, scattered among partner booths. Thanks to one of those partners, we even got a pretty cool video to show off with. We’re not quite done yet, but we’re getting close and its pretty exciting to see people’s reactions.

Shelby is something new in this space. It allows industrial automation users to bring
expectations from consumer products to their jobs. The equipment my company makes is built to last for decades — literally, 30 year old products are still running in manufacturing operations. But with all the focus on durability and reliability, there’s not much room for usability. Shelby, maybe for the first time, bends to meet the user’s needs, rather than the other way around. Its not perfect, and it has a lot of bending yet to do. But it delivers something to every customer within about 5 minutes of set-up, and it does it in a way that puts a smile on people’s faces.

But that’s not the thing I’m most proud of — Shelby is something new for its developers too. Shelby has personality, because the people who made it put some of themselves into it. This was not a top-down, Functional Specification driven product development cycle. This was a personal, iterative, lean project, designed by engineers, interface designers, and a product owner who spent his evenings writing code.

Someone once asked me “If there isn’t a requirements document, how will engineering know what to build?” Isn’t that a bizarre approach to inventing something new? Yet, that’s the norm: someone in marketing writes a requirements doc, throws it over the wall to engineering, who code what they think they’ve been asked for, throw that over the wall to QA, who test how they think its supposed to work, then someone in marketing tries to go sell the thing that’s been squeezed out of a machine like sausage. For most of that cycle, the customer is an abstract concept that the majority of the people in the process will never know, and the output is usually quite different than the person in marketing thought they had spec’ed out.

Our team is different: I’m “product management”, but I sit next to engineering and design, and “QA” is a developer on the team charged with ensuring tests can be automated and quality can be tracked through daily execution. We all sit together physically, and collaborate continuously. We’re constantly sharing what we’re doing with customers (maybe just a little bit too constantly!) who steer the direction of the development iteratively. Work is done in two week sprints that are discussed not more than two or three weeks in advance, so that we can constantly adapt to new information, better ideas, and input from the customer or the business. The approach is called “Lean Agile” and while we’re not the first development team to implement it, we’re among the early adopters in industrial automation.

To then take this very personal thing, which embodies the creativity and skill of every part of our (slightly too small) team, and deliver it to a marketing machine to be included in boilerplate messaging, with a name we didn’t get to choose (the actual name is 5 words that describe the product, but capture no one’s imagination) is more than a little frustrating. But even despite the efforts to normalize it, this thing has too much personality, and it explodes out of the box, with a cute logo and our code name getting used by customers when they ask when they can buy it, and partners making videos showing it off.

And suddenly, and finally, it has a life of its own, and it doesn’t matter that it was an uphill battle to get here, or that we had to fight the normal process, explaining over-and-over again why we were breaking so many rules or why doing something differently didn’t mean you were doing it wrong. Suddenly none of that matters, because people love it — and I don’t have to evangelize any more, because everyone wants to talk about it.
There’s work left to do before we ship our 1.0 product. Sometimes I’m not sure how we’re going to get it all done. And 1.0 is not the end of the journey — its literally the beginning. There’s a roadmap a mile long of things we wish we could have gotten done, and a vision that goes even further. But this way of doing things works: its bigger than marketing, bigger than product management, and bigger than me, because there’s a team of people who own it, and care about it, and want to make it better by listening to customers and doing the best work they can within our constraints.

This one took everything I know, and everything I’ve learned up to this point — and that wasn’t nearly enough. It needed a team of people who brought what they knew, and were willing to pour that into a little gray box that lets industrial automation customers feel like someone actually cares about making their jobs easier. It may not be a product that changes the world, but its a product that I’m awful proud of.”

We have known Matt and Kate for a number of years through music ministry and women’s retreats and early morning prayer at West London Alliance, our home church in Canada.  However over the last four or five years, we have had the joy of sharing a number of wonderful visits with them in Malaysia, Canada and even in Cambodia. We have watched them grow in their relationships with God, with each other and in parenting their children.

We rejoiced with them as they took steps of faith in serving in short-term missions and watch as God challenged their hearts more and more with an understanding of missions and service of others. They have faithfully and carefully made career and personal decisions intended to free themselves up to serve as God opens doors of opportunity. They have a very tender heart for overseas ministry but the reality is that for the time being their children still need them to be close to home.

However, God’s plans are perfect and this past December, they were offered an opportunity to take the next steps in their missions journey in the home office of SEND Canada, which is located just outside of London. In faith, Matt left his job to take on the role of Director of Operations, supervising and caring for the home office team, and overseeing the operations, technology and finances of the office. Matt’s career has prepared him well for the role and it is a great fit for Kate and the family as well.

After years of giving over their vacation time to short-terms missions, they finally were able to manage a week away and came to visit us here in Cayman. We thoroughly enjoyed hours of exploring the island, meals on the beach, a cruise across the sound, snorkeling and beach walks. Most of all, I think we enjoyed the long evening chats on our patio and leisurely breakfast visits as we shared our common passions, joys and heartaches. They even managed to experience a ten kilometer run in the tropics and Matt got in a couple of dives with our church friends. It was all good.

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The marks are in and the transcripts are out. The news is not hard to take. After four years and 18 courses, both Pam and I have our Master of Arts degrees in Global Leadership from the School of Intercultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary. We will not get the degree itself until convocation in June, but the transcripts came out over the weekend and we now know where we stand in regards to our results.

Yes we passed, in case you were in doubt. In my case, of the 18 courses we took I had two B pluses and one A minus. The rest were either As or A pluses. Both of those count as a 4.0 at Fuller. In sum I had a GPA of 3.87. If you were to average in the four external credit courses that we took in Malaysia It would come out to a 3.9. In percentage terms that is a 97%. I might suggest, if asked, that the B pluses had more to do with my attitude than my academics. I might have let slip on occasion that I thought the comments of teaching assistants had more to do with their obsession with border margins and pagination than intellectual content. Was their irritation evident in their assessments of my work? Possibly.

Some of you might be thinking, “What is that man on about? I would delighted with a 3.9 GPA.” However, I am a little disappointed in myself. I expected better. I would offer in defense of my grades that during these four years I held down a full time job, moving into two different and demanding full time positions over the last four years, once as head of CSR, and once into IB English, neither of which I had undertaken before. I also took and completed the Junior Admin qualifications at OISE. We also packed up and moved quite literally to the other side of the planet during this time. Then there was the small matter of supporting my wife who was gallivanting all over Southeast Asia at the time. I could go on.

But enough with the excuses. I have the degree, and some pretty decent marks in a very demanding program. There aren’t too many Master’s degrees that require 72 credit hours. We could have opted for an easier program. But easy has never really been our goal as a couple, and I am pleased with what we have accomplished in obtaining this degree. Oh yes, Pam’s grade? I should have mentioned it earlier. She had a GPA of 3.98. One A minus in 18 courses. All the rest As and A pluses. See what I am up against!

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AS many of you know, we moved to Cayman Island some 18 months ago after eight years in Southeast Asia when Stephen landed a job with Cayman International School teaching English in the International Baccalaureate program here. He has just signed on for another year with the school, so we will be here for at least another 18 months if you are planning a trip. These first 18 months have been hard on Stephen as has had to organize and then teach an entirely new set of books with an entirely different approach and assessment methodology. It has been a stiff uphill climb to master this new program, with a lot on the line for the students that he teaches in terms of getting into university when they leave. His determination to offer nothing but the best has meant long hours of preparation, planning, and marking.

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WE have also been deeply engaged in finishing up our Master’s degrees for the last year and a half, which has occupied practically all of our leisure hours, not to mention our discretionary spending! The upshot of all of this attention on preparation for ministry has meant that we have had very little time to do what we would like to do. Those of you who have followed our adventures over the last nearly ten years know that this weblog has likewise suffered from this neglect. We apologize for that and intend to do better in the future.

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ONE of the things that we always like to do as a couple is take in local activities, especially those related to music, art, food, and culture. Those looking for information on extreme sports or the bar scene are going to be disappointed with this blog. We were therefore delighted when one of the members of the ladies prayer group that Pam attends had a pair of tickets to see Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert at the Ritz Carlton, Cayman’s priciest resort. We hadn’t so much as walked through the place before, so it was a very nice treat. The walkover to the beach from the resort was particularly enjoyable, as the colonnade is lined with work from local artists.

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ON the beach there was a tent set up for the event. Having never watched Parts Unknown, Bourdain’s TV show on CNN, we were not sure what to expect. We love exotic food, but are not what you would call food fanatics, and I think the last cooking show we saw was the Galloping Gourmet! We were unexpectedly delighted. The two were quite clearly in their element together, as Anthony whipped up a fettucine carbonara while they bantered back and forth about technique. A sample: Eric, “Take it easy with that. You should make love to the food, not beat it like that.” Anthony, “I don’t like the sound of that. You keep your hips away from this counter, if you don’t mind.”

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THEY also told some fascinating and very funny tales of their travels and travails with food. One about eating pig rectums in Namibia was particularly horrific and hilarious. We were then invited to taste the pasta, followed by a tequila cocktail and some Peruvian chocolate which was amazingly good. Clearly we have been missing out on a very entertaining and fascinating character in Anthony Bourdain. We have also been missing out on far too much in the place where we now live. It is an amazing privilege to live in this beautiful island. We are hoping that now that the Master’s is over, we will have some time to truly enjoy it.

It was the winter of 2006 when we were last together as a family. Together? Only in thought . Our son was in Albany, his wife Nicole any day expecting their first child. Pam’s dear mother, recently passed, was not yet interred. We had already signed on with Taylor’s College in Malaysia, and although we had sold our renovated hovel on Upper Ave, we had not yet moved into the condo we had bought on Wharncliffe as a hedge against what we were sure would be an escalation of real estate during our sojourn in Southeast Asia. The family gathered for a funeral, which was the closest to a family Christmas we had that year. It was to be the last gathering for us for many years, and our last Christmas in Canada until this year.

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Much has happened in the intervening ten years. We are much older, more educated, much more travelled, and perhaps wiser, though time will be the best judge of such an assessment. However, for all our adventures – and there have been many as any random sample of this weblog will attest – there has been a sadly missing dimension of this last decade: we have been miserable grandparents, at least in our own estimation. Following that sad interment of Pam’s Mom those many years ago, we returned to our home on Upper Ave to a voice mail from our son that said their first child had been born. With scarcely a pause to pack, we set out for Albany to welcome baby Benjamin into the world; a blessing of joy hard upon a season of sorrow.

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From that time until this season we have not been home for Christmas. Though Taylor’s College was good enough to send us home at company expense, it was only once a year. A meager salary – by North American standards, at least – meant that this was all we could afford while we were there. Though Malaysia was clearly the Lord’s will for us, and was productive in ministry for eight years, it warred against our hearts to be so far away from our children’s five children as they were born and began to grow.  It was for this reason that we began to pray as long as four years ago, that the Lord would see fit to relocate us to the Western hemisphere so we could be closer to our family.

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This year was the culmination of that prayer as we were able to travel not only to Toronto and London to see our siblings and their families, but also to Cleveland, Ohio to see Benjamin, now 10, and his two younger sisters in their new home. Words are insufficient – to see our son and his wife, and our grandchildren in their own home at Christmas; to play Santa in the distribution of presents; to sit around the table at a meal; to build Star Wars Lego with Ben; to dance with Abi and Eli to Wii, to watch The Wizard of Oz with our three grandchildren while their parents celebrated New Year’s in downtown Cleveland – these are gifts beyond measure, beyond price. These are treasures to hold in our memories for all time.

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Words fail. You read this and look at the prose and the content. These mean so little. How can words express the holes in our hearts over these long years without our family at this most holy time? For this Christ came. For this He died. To show to us the importance of a love that is willing to endure whatever it costs to show that love to others. How so very grateful we are to the love that has been shown to us by all our family; to my dear sister-in-law and her two lovely daughters who put up with us/put us up in Toronto; to Pam’s most gracious brother and sister-in-law in London who did the same in London; and to our son and loving daughter-in-law, who shared their home and children with us in Ohio.

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We are closer now than we were in Malaysia. It is but a four hour direct from Toronto on either Air Canada or Westjet. And we promise, as long as the Lord allows us to remain in Cayman, that we will never again go through a Christmas without our family, either in Cayman or in Canada. We cannot replace those ten years, but neither will we ever add to them again.

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A rainbow baby is the understanding that the beauty of the rainbow does not negate the ravage of the storm. When a rainbow appears it doesn’t mean that the storm never happened or that the family is not still dealing with it’s aftermath.  What it means is that something beautiful and full of light has appeared in the midst of the darkness and clouds.

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