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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It is often said that cousins are the first friends we will ever have. True, but they are far more than that. Cousins not only draw from some of the same gene pool, but also show up on the same family tree. They share irrevocable experiences of childhood that can never be lost and an understanding of the unique joys and challenges of your crazy family. No matter where life takes you, neither geography or decades can take any of that away. All that is certainly true for Sandra and I.

Our mother’s were sisters and we were born five weeks (I being the more mature of the two) and one mile apart. As kids we did everything together. We were always in the same class at school until we headed into high school. I always figured that she got the beauty but I got the brains. Our lives took very different paths in that she married soon after graduating from high school and she and Larry raised their three kids fairly close to home. We both had two boys and a girl but my slower start meant that our oldest child was born about a month after her youngest. Since the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, her kids settled close to home while ours scattered to various sides of the continent.

We had a great time of catching up and reminiscing this week as Sandra and Larry came to Cayman to get a break from winter and spend some precious time with us. We took the opportunity to celebrate not only our shared 65th birthdays but also their 46th and our 39th anniversaries, by taking a catamaran cruise across the North Sound to a favourite restaurant. That whole cousin thing was most evident when Sandra and I would kill ourselves laughing over shared jokes that only puzzled Steve and Larry.

It is always fun to introduce others to the beauty, peace and experiences of our adopted home of Grand Cayman. We shared beautiful sunsets, picnics on the beach and evening visits on the patio. Larry even decided that he enjoyed swimming in the ocean and Sandra reigned in her claustrophobic tendencies to explore the wonders of the underwater universe, in a submarine. It was wonderful visit all around.

March 22-29/17

Yesterday I was 64 and today I am 65, a significant milestone by most anyone’s definition. We marked the day with a cruise across the North Sound with some friends from CIS and dinner at our favourite, funky restaurant.

When I was young, I often thought about how it would feel to be 65. To be officially a senior citizen, a recipient of OAS, free from the challenges of work and child-rearing, just relaxing and trying my best to make my body and mind last as long as possible. Not surprisingly, that is not at all how it feels to be 65.

While I definitely do not feel old, I also most definitely do not feel young either; and I am rejoicing in the differences between the two. Seasoned by years of dealing with difficult, challenging and at times heart breaking circumstances while recognizing God’s ever-present hand; gives me the confidence that I can face whatever lies ahead without the fear and anxiety that often haunted the years when I was young. I have more confidence in the person that I am, in the gifts I have been given and the skills that I have developed and I have less need to measure up to the imagined or real expectations of others.

Yet I still enjoy and am no less interested in, the same things that I did as a young person. Plus, those things are enhanced by my own grown children, the spouses they have chosen and the wonderful grandchildren that we love so dearly. I am no less adventuresome, am still having fun and have the freedom, education and finances to choose my activities. I had a full and rewarding career in Nursing, eight amazing years to serve in SE Asia and finally the opportunity to pursue the education that had repeatedly been set aside in order to meet more urgent needs.

Most of all, I have the joy of sharing this journey with the love of my life; a faithful husband who loves the Lord and has supported and encouraged me every step of the way. He has a passion for excellence and a hunger for learning and his commitment to, and compassion for, those he serves have spurred me on to be that best that I can be.

I appreciate each day more fully, celebrate each small pleasure and experience more deeply and I am exceedingly grateful for each person in my life. I am fortunate to be in good health and the loss of health, even the lives of many friends, reminds me of just how blessed I am to still be able to speak into the lives of others. I have learned that every day is precious, love is a profound and sacred gift, prayer changes things, gratitude corrects perspective, being right is not always the most important thing. I know there is no point in judging others because they are often just trying to do the best they can, forgiveness and generosity are healing for me as much as for the other and dancing is good for the body and the soul. I know there are many more things left that I would like to do.


I love being a Grandma and one of the joys of this period of being an unemployed graduate, is the freedom to drop everything and hang out with kids and grandkids. Liz and Greg were able to get away for a week in Phoenix at Greg’s parent’s home there. They graciously invited me to meet them there to get in some stolen grandkid time. It is a great home, on a canal with a fun little pontoon boat for tootling around the neighbourhood. The great sun-soaked back yard has a lovely little pool and plenty of ducks to feed.

 

The kids are growing up so quickly and seem to develop in leaps and bounds between each visit. Russ is three and a half and a delight to be with. He is very polite, greeting new people with “hello, it is very nice to meet you”. It was fascinating to watch him independently reading books that most kids in grade two would struggle to read. He was delighted to be a big boy, sleeping on the pull-out in his other grandma’s room.

Layla, at fifteen months is as sweet as they come. She decided this week that walking is the best choice for mobility and went from a tentative steps between furniture to confidently motoring around the house and playground. She feel in love with some over-sized stuffed animals that decorate the bedrooms and spent hours playing with them. I took her for a walk to the drugstore and bought her a small, bug-eyed stuffed kitten. She spent the entire walk home playing a little game by herself in which she would hug and rock the kitten and then place it in the cupholder of her stroller. After a few seconds, she would repeatedly sign “more, more” and then finally pick up the kitten for more hugs. It was the sweetest thing I have ever seen.

Greg and Liz left on the Friday and I stayed on for a Grandma weekend with Greg’s mom, Holly. We were joined by Greg’s sister’s mother-in-law Joanne who also shares two grandkids with Holly who are essentially the same age as Russ and Layla. We had a fun, relaxing weekend, with some fine dining and wining, shopping and even a couple of rounds of Top Golf. These are ladies you can really brag bout your grandkids to.

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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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