Here it is nearing the end of an incredibly busy summer and September is almost behind us. Our blog has suffered considerably due to the whirlwind of the past three months but over the next few days, we will attempt to capture what we missed. I returned from a week with Jon and Nicole and the kids in Orlando to complete the cleaning and packing for our move out of the condo that has been our home for the two years we have been in Grand Cayman. We loved that condo and will certainly miss it, but we will be able to keep a close eye on the scheduled renovations since we have moved next door.

We basically just dropped our belongings as the weekend had been set aside for the joy of seeing our dear young friend, Cherilyn marry the love of her life, Taylor. Cherilyn, the Grade 3 teacher at CIS arrive here at the same time as we did and has been an encouragement to us as well as others in our Community Group. Taylor’s move to the island was a slow process as he worked his way through the interviews and mounds of paperwork required to land a job and a work permit on this island. Everything came together for Taylor to move here in early June, with less than three weeks until their island wedding. With Taylor and Cherilyn safely here, the family began to arrive from various parts of North and South America.

It was a beautifully, God honouring ceremony, on an amazing day on a spectacular stretch of beach. Following the ceremony the guests loaded on to two boats for a forty five minute ride across the North Sound. The dinner at Rum Point was a scrumptious beach BBQ with gelato in place of a wedding cake. Local musicians provided the music for a very spirited dance and provided the back drop for the tributes and speeches. It was a wonderful celebration from beginning to end and it was a very joyful crowd that loaded up for the ride back across the Sound under the stars.

 

 

It was fun to have had a small part in the planning organizing of the day and Steve even had the joy of playing his guitar and singing some songs of love as the guests gathered on the beach. He had organized all of the sound equipment and for the processional and for the ceremony itself. It is a privilege and a joy to see this sweet young couple begin their journey together.

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Sometime in August, when I was 27, I encountered God. It wasn’t entirely a surprise, though the nature of that encounter and its impact on me still strikes me as extraordinary. I had, after all, been looking for God for about 15 years. I had gone looking for him in drugs, in churches, in music, in literature, in obscure and arcane practices, and relationships with the wild and the willful. But in August of that year my search had turned serious.

I had just finished my first year teaching in a small Ontario town, and had finally achieved a measure of financial and professional security after a decade of upheaval. I had finally grown tired of my dissolute and deceitful ways with women and the world, and was looking for a fresh start. I wanted that fresh start to include an understanding of the Infinite that I had glimpsed in the lives of others and heard of through the testimony of those who had encountered It/Him. I had read finally read enough and seen enough to know that an Infinite Being did exist, and that there were those who had lived and were living in the presence of that Infinite Being. But I never thought I would ever have a personal encounter myself. I was about to.

I packed up my car with my worldly belongings. They didn’t amount to much. Among them were three books of special note. There was a zippered leather Bible that my grandmother had given me at my confirmation, a Good News Bible that I had picked up at the Sally Ann in town, and a copy of the I Ching that I had been following for about a year. I parked on the campus of Brescia College in London and got out for a cigarette. It was two in the morning and not a soul around. The sky was achingly clear and the Milky Way was spread out across it like a diamond carpet beyond the pines that rimmed the parking lot.

After all the turmoil of the past ten years of my life, the moment was a pool of serenity. I thought it might be a good time to cast some coins and read what the I Ching had to say about the road ahead. The first three tosses of the coins all yielded solid lines, an auspicious beginning for the hexagram. The next two throws were also solid lines, and I became very excited. Six solid lines are the most favourable reading in the entire book. I had never cast a perfect hexagram, and here I was facing the distinct possibility with my last throw.

I paused, bowed my head and prayed to God to allow these coins to fall tails. All three did. A perfect hexagram. The best possible throw. The best possible future. But that is not what struck me. What struck me was that Someone had answered my prayer. I had not prayed to the Chinese god of the I Ching. There is no such god. Those who follow the I Ching believe that fate and wisdom determine our earthly outcomes, not some Infinite Being that cares for us personally.

No, when I had prayed, I had prayed to the God that I had known as a child. The God that had once walked on this earth and left instructions on how to find Him. The God that I had sought and not found at my confirmation. That is the God I prayed to, and He, ignoring a decade of personal failure and weakness, ignoring even that I was looking for answers in the practice of ancient superstitions, He had graciously answered that wistful prayer for guidance.

I was overcome with gratitude, and confess that not knowing how to express my thanks, I looked up into the heavens. Those who are familiar with the Hitchcock Effect, or dolly zoom, will best understand what came next. Hitchcock pioneered the dolly zoom in Vertigo by moving the camera away from the object while simultaneously zooming in. The effect is disconcerting, and a good analogy for what happened next. I thought as I looked that Someone beyond the pines, beyond the stars, beyond the universe itself had heard my insignificant prayer for guidance and had heard me.

In an instant, in a breath, that entire distance seemed to collapse in a rush of vertigo that brought the Infinite beside me. I know that this cannot sound anything but foolish, and there is no other way to express it than this. I felt the presence of the Infinite beside me. There was no electricity in the air, no sudden change of temperature. I did not hear an audible voice. I felt no reassuring hand on my shoulder. But the Infinite stood beside me, and it was overwhelming. I gasped in wonder. The Bible speaks of a God who is able to do “infinitely more than we can ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20). I know what that means. I know what that feels like. It lasted less than a minute. It has stayed with me for a lifetime and completely altered my life.

Yes, I did read through the Bible, or at least the four gospels, until I understood what I needed to do to accept that God as lord of my life and begin living according to His precepts. But that outcome was a dead certainty after that moment in the presence of God. I have talked to hundreds of Christians about their encounters with God since that day. In North America my experience is still considered unusual, and I typically don’t mention it for that reason. When we lived in Asia we heard plenty of stories like mine, and others far more compelling. I do not believe that such experiences are unique. Nor do I think that they are necessary. My wife has had a vital relationship with Christ for her entire life and has never experienced an encounter with God such as mine.

I am not offering this as a template or a prescription, but rather a reflection on my own journey from the vantage of age. Like all who have walked with God in the daily grind of life, I have had my troubles and woes. I have tasted both success and failure. I am far from perfect, as anyone who knows me will testify. But beyond all my weakness, beyond all my trials, beyond anything that this life can offer or deny, this one thing I will know to my last breath. I have stood in the presence of God. And will again someday.

They’re scattering to places around the United States, Canada and England.

Some know exactly what career they want to pursue, while others still haven’t figured it out. For some, their time living in the Cayman Islands is coming to an end. Of the 25 graduates of the Cayman International School class of 2017 – the school’s largest graduating class to date – 24 are going to university in the fall, while the 25th will wait to start college until after a four-year stint in the U.S. Navy.

They will miss their friends, they will miss their family, but they are ready to embrace the next phase of their lives. Just hours before graduation, class valedictorian Camila Pantin was still trying to process in her mind what was about to happen.

“It still hasn’t hit me … that [Cayman] won’t be the place I’ll be living for the next few years,” she said. This autumn, Camila starts at the University of Notre Dame, where she’ll study liberal arts for the first year, with the idea of eventually entering the school’s College of Business.

Like eight of her classmates, Camila will enter university with college credits, thanks to the successful completion of Cayman International School’s IB (International Baccalaureate®) Diploma Programme, an optional, advanced curriculum. The rigorous IB Diploma Programme challenges high school students,“It was challenging and pretty hard, but it was manageable,” said class salutatorian Erik Bjerksholt. “It was stressful at times, but the teachers do a great job supporting us. They want you to do well.”

Originally from the Canary Islands, Erik is heading off to the U.K. – probably Bath – to study chemical engineering at university. He doesn’t see himself coming back to the Cayman Islands to live. “I hope to come back to visit,” he said.

Graduate Theo Nielsen will continue a family military tradition by joining the U.S. Navy. His great-grandfather fought in World War I, his grandfather in World War II and his father was a U.S. Army Ranger in the early 1980s. After spending four years in the Navy, Theo plans on attending university. He said that he thought attending CIS was a wonderful experience.

“The teachers were the best I’ve ever had,” he said. “I’ve never had such great teachers supporting me.”

Dani Scott is moving to New York City to attend The American Musical and Dramatic Academy, a college conservatory for the performing arts. Dani, who is the daughter of EY Regional Managing Partner Dan Scott, said she loves New York City and even though she grew up in a place as small as Grand Cayman, she is looking forward to living there.

In his congratulatory address to the graduates, CIS Director Jeremy Moore – known as Dr. Jeremy to his students – spoke about the tradition of the graduating class choosing a senior quote, which this year was from Louisa May Alcott: “I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.”

“This quote reflects confidence and I admire this confidence that you have as you move on to new adventures,” said Jeremy, then challenging the graduates to define their direction.

“You are not afraid of storms and you are learning to sail, but where are you steering your ship? What do you want to do?” he asked. “That may sound like a trite and tired question at first, but I don’t simply mean what profession do you want to enter into; I mean what do you want to spend your life doing? What is your purpose?”

Jeremy told the graduates that he hoped their goals were not as simple as personal wealth and he said a Harvard University survey surmised that the secret to happiness was achieved through four actions.

“Cherish your most important relationships,” he said, citing the first action. “Be a contribution – not make a contribution, but be a contribution. Remember that by helping others and helping our world, you are also helping yourself.

“Take care of yourself, your health and your well-being,” he continued. “And do more of what you’re good at and less of what you’re not so good at. You won’t be truly happy if you choose a career and a life path for the wrong reasons. You must realise your strengths and build on them and do what you enjoy.”

Whatever this very capable group of young men and women do in their future, they have already had a huge impact on the young students at CIS who look up to them as example and models. They will be missed by younger peers and teachers alike, and have set a high standard that will be hard to match.

 

Jon’s work commitments required him to be in Orlando for a week so they decided to take the opportunity to drive down as a family, celebrate the school year end and explore Disney World. It is a pretty daunting task for Nicole to attempt to manage three kids alone in the parks and pools so they invited me to come along as well. It was a wonderfully successful week largely due to Nicole’s organizational skills and attention to every little detail of the adventure. We stayed at a hotel with two pools, a lazy river and waterslide and alternated between full days in the parks and pool days at the hotel to get rested up.

The kids are at great ages for the parks with the ability and knowledge to appreciate the venues and rides and the stamina to keep on going for the entire fourteen hours we spent at the Magic Kingdom. Eli is tall enough for most rides and is fearless; never to be out-done by her brother and sister. Tower of Terror (which we did twice) and Space Mountain are joy rides for these guys. We all loved Soarin’, the 3D videos and the gentle rides through the woods of Snow White and the oceans of the Little Mermaid. You can never go wrong with a Frozen sing-along and a chance to do what snowmen do in summer.

With a full day at each of the Magic Kingdom, Epcot and Hollywood Studios, we experienced the dark side and the light side of all that Disney has to offer and it was great. We met princesses and storm troopers. Jon even managed to wrap up his work commitments in time to join us for the final day to see the kids train as young Jedi, conquer their fears and face the evil ones. What a wonderful week!

We debated long and hard about the wisdom of flying to Pasadena to attend our graduation ceremony, especially considering that the date coincided with the graduation of Steve’s CIS students. Although the grade twelves were moving on, Steve still needed to be back at work by Monday morning so it would need to be a very quick trip. In the end we decided that the ceremony represented a major accomplishment in our lives, many hours of hard work and commitment and a significant financial sacrifice so we decided to make the trip. We are glad that we did.

The 68th convocation ceremony was held in the main sanctuary of Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena with approximately 630 graduates from some thirty-six countries represented. Masters and PhD degrees were conferred on students from Fuller’s three schools, eight campuses and eighteen degree programs. It was a great joy to be able to share the day with many other grads and especially with five other members of our PACK cohort.

President Mark Labberton delivered the charge to the graduating class exhorting all in attendance the audience to live intentionally with “Ears to Hear and Eyes to See” reflecting on 2 Cor. 5:16-18 and the a vision of a new reality of who God is and our response to God’s grace and mercy. He challenged us with the need to see God and ourselves in a radically different way. How is your vision of God transformed and how will you going on gaining an ever renewed, clear, passionate understanding of this road to “utter newness” as ambassadors for Christ.

We thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to stay at the guest house again and wonder the campus one more time and reflect on the ups and downs of this journey. Even managed to take a walk around the town center and a lovely dinner at our favourite Indian restaurant. By 6:15 Sunday morning we were headed back to the airport to go our separate ways: Steve back to Cayman and I to Orlando. It was well worth the trip.

 

 

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.

When I was young and easy as the grass was green, I was much affected by the poetry of Dylan Thomas (alluded to above) and e.e. cummings. One of the latter’s poems, “When God lets my body be,” struck me at the time as a most apt figure of speech. Yes, I had a life to live, and much of it lay ahead of me then. But even then I could foresee a day when I would be glad to quit of all the responsibilities that life and God lay upon me. I knew even then, that given my drive to do and see all that there was to know, that I would never be free until God was willing to let my body be; that I would always be a work in progress; that I would always be on the way to being something that I was not, in order to be all that I could potentially be.

Over the last two years I have been becoming an IB Diploma English teacher. It is one of the most challenging things I have undertaken in my life, and it is only now that I can say with some assurance that I have become what I set out to be some two and a half years ago. It was in February 2015 that I accepted this position at Cayman International School in the Cayman Island. I knew that I would have up my game considerably to meet the professional standards for this move. Taking a Masters was part of that thinking. So was immersing myself in Google Sites, Classroom, and Drive protocols, and refreshing my SmartBoard knowledge. I studied the materials for this position and wore my colleagues out with demands for information. I met or Skyped with everyone I knew to find out all that I could. I started lesson planning and choosing novels, plays, and poetry about four months before I even got here. Over the course of the last two years I have built three websites to house all the curriculum materials I have developed. I update the articles and novel study guides weekly.

English is a difficult subject at the best of times. There are so many things you have to access to do well. You have be a good reader; that goes without saying. But you also need to be a good writer, a good speaker, a good presenter, a good debater, and above all a good thinker. You have to be familiar with literature from several countries, regions and traditions. You have to have a good grasp of historical and social movements, and a least a familiarity with the development of intellectual ideas. You have to not only know literary terms and conventions, but know their use and purposes and be able to use them yourself. For IB English you have to know not only know how to write critical analysis – not imposing interpretations on text but drawing meaning from it – but that analysis must be written in a concise and fluid prose that does not become biased or dogmatic.

To bring all this about as a teacher you must assiduously read and correct virtually everything your students write. Assessment in IB is most tightly proscribed. There is absolutely no room at all for subjective assessment to any degree. On a typical weekend I will mark student work for 10 to 14 hours. Nor does the teaching day afford much preparation time for lessons, which must also be prepared over the weekends. Last year I taught three different grades of English. This year and next I will teach two grades, two sections each, plus an elective each day. In Malaysia I taught one grade three periods out of the six in a day, so this was a twofold increase in my workload.

The workload may be daunting, but the real challenge was getting up to speed on the demands of knowledge for each novel, play, and poet that I taught. That has taken hundreds of hours, and I am nowhere near finished. I still need to know everything I possible can about Wislawa Szymborska, Chinua Achebe, Jean Anouilh, Bernhard Schlink, Cormac McCarthy, Pablo Neruda, and Zora Neale Hurston, and I need to constantly push what I already know about Sophocles, Aristotle, Joseph Conrad, Charles Dickens, Yann Martel, William Shakespeare and Robert Frost. I need to find relevant articles about the works we are studying and reduce these articles to what is useful and applicable for an upper high school study. I have to constantly adjust my lesson plans to meet the exigencies of IB and CIS report card deadlines, school trips, assemblies, school-wide events, and parent teacher meetings.

I confess that I am tired. Exhausted would be closer to the truth. But I am not yet done. In fact, last weekend I took a round of training to become an IB Examiner so I can mark student work from other countries as well as my own. I am doing this so I can have a greater understanding of what constitutes a good grade by IB criterial so I can better instruct the students I teach. This too is part of becoming an IB teacher, so I am not there yet, wherever there may be.

However that said – and I recognize that it is a lot to digest – let me come to the heart of the matter. Yesterday I finished the end of the two year cycle that is the IB Diploma program in English Literature. The students that I started with two years ago are now finished their lessons. They are not finished their year, let me hasten to add. In front of them is a three week cycle of exams in every subject. There will be two exams in English, for example, three in Biology, three in Chemistry, three in Math and so on. All of these exams are externally marked by IB Examiners in some other country. We cannot mark our own, and indeed I will not even see the English exam until after the students have written it. I will not know how they did until sometime in August.

But my part is done. I have planned and executed a two year course of study starting virtually from scratch and it is done. May I say – with some degree of justification – that it was done well. Yesterday I told the students that I would let them assess me. I opened a folder in Google drive for this purpose and let them say whatever they wanted. I will not post here the comments they made. That is private between them and me, and I would not violate our confidential relationship by citing their reflections. I will say that I am humbled by their kindness and their courtesy, and rejoice that my efforts to bring about their greater good have not gone unnoticed.

So where am I now? Well, I have become an IB English teacher. That is what I set out to do, and that is what I now am. In time I will become a better one, I am sure. I am also now an IB Examiner, so for now, and for this brief window, I am not becoming, I am. When God lets my body be, I will finally be who I am forever. I am not in a hurry to get there, but gosh I must say that I am looking forward to the rest.