Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Seven Astronauts

Tomorrow marks the 20th anniversary of the horrible disaster in the skies over Texas, when seven lives were lost in the Space Shuttle Columbia while re-entering our atmosphere.

I wrote this poem February 2, 2003, the day after it exploded almost exactly 17 years after the tragedy with the Space Shuttle Challenger. I still remember where I was when I watched the Challenger explode on January 28, 1986. Both explosions were deeply traumatic, and both included members who made history, not just in the explosions, but in breaking glass ceilings and paving the way for astronauts, explorers and scientists in the future.

Space Shuttle Columbia tribute poster
Graphic design credit: NASA/Amy Lombardo.
NASA publication number: SP-2010-08-163-KSC

Seven children once gazed up at the stars
And wondered what it was like up there.
Over Israel, India and the United States,
The skies looked down on them
Seeming to call to them

Seven children grew up
Dreaming of what they would do
They became pilots, doctors, scientists, colonels

They watched in horror
As the Challenger blew up
Shortly after takeoff
Not knowing that they would one day
Suffer a similar fate

Seven men and women were accepted by NASA
To explore the heavens
To conduct scientific experiments

Seven families and three nations
Watched in awe as the spaceship lifted off
They dreamed of their fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters
Up there in the skies
Houston got reports of their findings
Scientific knowledge advanced
Until the communication stopped

Seven families waited at Cape Canaveral’s landing strip
Eagerly awaiting their loved ones’ return
They did not expect their joy to turn to tears
They did not expect to hear news of the Columbia
Exploding over Texas
Scattering all over the largest continental state in the US

Seven men and women were lost that day
Seven families learned that their loved ones
Would not be returning
Seven families suffered the same pain
As seven other families
Seventeen years earlier
Three nations lost their sons and daughters
The first Israeli and the first Indian in space


Why did this happen?
Praise the Lord
He can do wondrous things
He can work through tragedies
Who knows?
Perhaps this was the tragedy
That will cause many lost souls
To consider where they will go
Maybe people will be saved for eternity
Because God used an exploded space shuttle
And seven lost lives
To bring them to Him

May God have all the glory!

The crew of the Columbia
David Brown, Rick Husband, Laurel Clark,
Kalpana Chawla, Michael Anderson,
William McCool, Ilan Ramon
Photo by NASA

Monday, January 30, 2023

Disaster in the Skies

January 29, 1986 in the Philippines, January 28 in Florida. I was in second grade at the time, and my mom taught kindergarten at our school in the Philippines. I usually hung out in her classroom before and after school. The launch of the Challenger on its tenth mission had been at 12:38 AM Philippine time (11:38 AM the the day before, EST). I believe it was before school that we were to watch the historic launch. My mom said, "Let's go see the spaceship!" I was excited because spaceships and astronomy have always fascinated me. At the time, the entire elementary shared an Audiovisual (A/V) Room, where classes went when lessons involved movies. (I remember watching Back to the Future at a sleepover in that room in 4th grade, two years later.) We ran from her classroom to the A/V Room, where teachers were gathered to watch the launch at Cape Canaveral. Excitement turned to horror as we watched this projected on the big screen:

Photo by NASA, Kennedy Space Center

Christa McAuliffe was the first teacher and the first private citizen to join a space mission, as part of the first Teacher in Space Project, and it was a huge deal. As I was in second grade, I don't remember a lot about the aftermath, but I do remember running to the Audiovisual Room, and standing in horror as we watched the unthinkable disaster unfold. It is a moment I will never forget.

It's hard to believe this year marks the 37th anniversary of that awful disaster.

The final crew of the Challenger
Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Greg Jarvis, Judy Resnik
Michael Smith, Dick Scobee, Ron McNair
Photo by NASA

NASA Orbiter tribute poster for the Challenger
Graphic design credit: NASA/Lynda Brammer.
NASA publication number: SP-2010-08-162-KSC

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Ridiculous Roy

We had an assignment in middle school English class to write a poem of couplets. I was having a case of writer's block until my mom suggested that I write about something unexpected, like a boy who carried a teddy bear everywhere. I named said teddy bear after Garfield's buddy. At the time, I was under the false impression that "cerebellum" and "asylum" were a near rhyme. Sometime later, I discovered I had been mispronouncing "asylum" for years. Bless my heart.

Image from: Kraken images

Ridiculous Roy had a teddy bear.
He carried it with him everywhere.

Pooky went with him to the bank and the store
To church and to school, to work and much more.

When he was young,
it was very fun.

His father said to 9-year-old Roy, "Roy, sell your stupid bear!"
"Aw, Dad," he said, "Let me take him to the fair!"

When he was 13, his classmates called him "Sissy",
But he and Pooky were much too busy.

In high school, his teachers tried to take it away.
He just took Pooky out to play!

His bride was embarrassed when the three marched up the aisle.
She hoped he'd get rid of Pooky in a while.

At the intersection, everyone would stare.
How odd to see a policeman with a teddy bear!

What a job! They were tired.
Because of Pooky, Roy was fired.

Acting was their new job.
Roy played Chickeño; Pooky played Bob.

Something was wrong with Roy's cerebellum.
He was sent to an insane asylum.

There they died and shared a mansion in Heaven.
The château was manor number one hundred seven.

With Pooky, Ridiculous Roy was married.
With Pooky, Ridiculous Roy was buried.

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Thoughtfulness and Artistry

Imagine if you will, a youth group room. One of the youth leaders asks a teenager, "What's up?"

Without missing a beat, the teen responds, "The ceiling!"

People who know me well may assume I was the teen in question. They would be wrong. I was present, however. With a beaming smile, I gave my good friend Mio a high five and said, "I knew you were awesome!' I was another of the youth leaders, and I like to think I trained him well. (I can't say that for sure, however. It may have been a "Great minds think alike" moment.)

Steven Sauke, 2016
Adobe Illustrator

Back up a bit. In 2014 my grandpa visited Activate, our church's youth group, who also welcomed youth from other churches. He spoke of memories of going forward at a summer camp when he was 10. After his talk, we took a group picture, and our very talented main youth leader did something I never saw anyone else do over the course of my life. She managed to talk my dignified grandpa into making a goofy face in the middle of a crowd of teenagers for a picture.

As a pastor for many years before retiring, my grandpa had a heart for reaching youth. He loved and prayed for them. That evening endeared a 98-year-old man to a group of teens. They were present at what I believe was the last time he spoke before a group. He would write a letter to each of them a few months later.

As the weeks went on, Activate met weekly, and as a new leader, I got to know them. One evening a student by the name of Emilio, or Mio for short, came up to me and offered to draw a portrait of my grandpa. Mio usually carried a sketchbook, and also sometimes drew amazing artwork on the whiteboard, which never ceased to blow me away. I like to think of myself as an artist, but my drawing ability is nowhere near as good as his. He has an incredible talent. Anyway, a couple weeks later, Mio presented me with an amazing drawing:

I can't begin to express what his thoughtfulness meant to me, and to our entire family. My grandpa lived at an adult family home at the time, and I posted it on the wall of his room along with family pictures. I had to describe it to my grandpa, as he was nearly blind by this point, and I had to shout to be heard, to explain that this was drawn by Mio, one of the youth in Activate. I also told one of the nurses, in case my grandpa asked about it later. It was so tough to see my grandpa going through this.

Christmas of 2014, Activate celebrated with a white elephant gift exchange. As much as I love gift exchanges, I'm not a fan of the one where everyone gets a number. The first person opens a gift. The second person has a choice of claiming the first person's gift or opening a new one...and so on. Gifts can only be claimed from someone else once or twice, but as long as it's eligible to be claimed, the person who has it must let the other person take it, and may not reclaim it. I selected a gift and opened it to discover a calligraphy set. It was very cool and I was excited about it. Mio's turn was a few rounds later, and he walked up to me to claim it. I don't remember what I got instead, but what I do remember is that after the gift exchange was over, he came over and handed it back to me. I was so surprised and deeply moved. It was the last thing I expected.

In May of 2015, our family was gathered around my grandpa's bed when he took his final breath and was ushered into glory. Activate had planned to visit him, but he didn't make it to the scheduled date. The way Activate rallied around us and supported our family through that difficult time meant the world to us. At his memorial, I read my grandpa's eulogy. Mio was in attendance.

At one point, Mio invited me to a track meet at his high school. I felt honored to attend.

In 2016, I did the illustration at the top of this post of him, using a picture I took as the background.

In 2019, we met and caught up, and took a walk. It was great to see him again. We got some pictures:

Mio is a dear friend and brother in Christ. More than almost anyone I know, he exemplifies 1 Timothy 4:12: "Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity." Despite being about half my age now, he has challenged me to be a better person, to practice my art, and to be more thoughtful and generous toward others. I was one of his youth leaders, but I feel like he has taught me a lot more than I taught him.

Friday, January 27, 2023

The Two Seasons

Some of the most stunning natural beauty and the most violent weather I've ever encountered have been in the Philippines, where they only have two seasons: dry and rainy. The palm trees, the sunny beaches, the coral reefs, banana trees, and so much more, are breathtaking. Both seasons are necessary, and both have their drawbacks. 

The rain floods the rice fields, which is important in growing it. Tropical downpours are much stronger than anything I have encountered in the Seattle area, where I live now. It is like standing in the shower. At times, we had to deal with flooding. The wind can get very violent. We had some friends who lost their roof in a typhoon once. With the combination of rain and wind, we learned to move beds and anything else away from the windows when there was a typhoon in the forecast. Thunder can be loud and last a long time, and the lightning lights up the entire sky. The rain, wind and lightning are an awesome force, and are both amazing and terrifying. They can cause a lot of destruction.

But once the rainy season is over, the weather is a lot more calm. The sun beats down. The tropics shine, and the beauty is dazzling. But with my fair skin and red hair, I had to be very careful, as I also got some serious sunburns. The rice fields dried out and cracked. During the dry season, they looked like a desert.

Both seasons are warm year round, as the Philippines is just north of the equator, but it gets a lot hotter during the dry season. We were shivering when it dipped down into the 70s.

I wrote this sonnet in high school as part of an assignment in English class.

travnikovstudio/Adobe Stock

The sun is shining bright
Over the beautiful land of the Philippines
It is such a sight
With an array of gorgeous scenes.
The sea is sparkling light
And the beach cannot compare
While the birds in their soft flight
Soar on the wings of the air.

Rainy Season is here.
The rain falls in torrents
Lightning strikes and thunder claps, causing fear,
And making the little birds tense.
In five months, the rainy season will be over and done
The Philippines will once more know the sun.

Michael/Adobe Stock

icemanphotos/Adobe Stock

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Kindness in a Bookstore

It's the age-old question. Well, one of the many. You find the treasures in the store that you can't live without (figuratively speaking, of course), get up to the counter, and discover...how are you going to pay for everything?

That was the issue I faced one day while shopping at my favorite Christian bookstore at our local mall. I had cash with me, but when I got everything up to the counter, they totaled it up...and it was more than I could pay right then. What would I have to eliminate? There was a line behind me, so I had to decide quickly! So I decided I didn't need that really cool t-shirt I wanted. Maybe I could buy it next time. 

Kraken Images/Adobe Stock

I was disappointed that I wouldn't be able to get it at that time, but it wasn't a huge deal. Just as I had resigned myself to having to forego buying it, the man behind me in line said, "I can pay for that." 

Once I got over my shock, I asked him the first thing that came to mind: "Will I need to pay you back?" I wasn't sure how I would do so as I didn't know him (and that was before I got my first cell phone), but I felt I had to ask. He assured me I would not need to pay him back.

So it was that I left the store with everything I had been planning to buy, and the kindness of a stranger to thank for it! I never did find out his name, and even if I had, I doubt I'd remember it now, but that small deed was a major encouragement for a teenager.

You never know what impact a simple act of kindness will have to encourage and inspire people. That man taught me that, and continues to inspire me.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Ah, the Joys of Homework!

I wrote this March 19, 1995 as part of an assignment in high school. I didn't always enjoy doing homework, but when I did, it looked something like this. Mrs. Best was my English teacher (mentioned in the poem). The French lines say, "Mrs. Best is funny, isn't she? / Homework."

Photo by motortion/Adobe Stock

It is a compound word
Is it absurd?
Maybe absurd, but it is important.
Its synonym is stress.
Sometimes it is fun.
Sometimes it is not.
When will it be done?
Am I having fun yet?
Hey, this is neat.
What is the square root of 6, divided by 35 to the eighteenth power, times the cosine of nine?
Who was America’s fifteenth president?
Spelled H-O-M-E-W-O-R-K
This poem is homework
Computers are awesome!
Mme Best est drôle, n’est-ce pas?
Les devoirs.

What a blast!
Did you say vacation is next week?
Yea! No homework next week!
But after vacation,

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

A Lesson in Kindness

1995. The combined youth groups from several churches in the Seattle area took the train from Seattle to San Diego, spent the night in Chula Vista, California, and then continued south to Tijuana, Mexico, where we worked with communities in the area. We were working with an organization called YUGO (Youth Unlimited Gospel Outreach), which facilitates youth missions trips in Mexico, both to serve the communities in that area and to equip American youth for ministry. It was an amazing week. After that week was done, we headed north a bit to unwind at Disneyland. I spent the day with my friend Dan, and we had a blast.

Photo taken at California Adventure
20 years later, in 2015

That evening, we had just left the park when we met a man from a local Baptist church, who was raising funds for his church's women's ministry. As we felt that was a good cause, we both contributed. The gentleman commented that this was (understandably) very awkward for him, and he had gone out searching for two reasons: His wife had convinced him, and he felt God's leading that there was something important that he needed to do. I believe we found out what that was.

Dan and I continued on toward the hotel. As it was late and we hadn't eaten, but most restaurants were closed at that time, we stopped at the local 7-Eleven to get something to eat. As we were leaving, a homeless man stopped us and asked for money for food. This was a bit more of a quandary for us. I grew up in the Philippines, where many of the beggars are in syndicates where they have to take their collections back to someone in charge, so giving money doesn't help (or anyway, that's how it was in the 80s). In the Philippines, we learned to give them food instead (we kept some in the car for that purpose). There are also a lot of homeless in Seattle. I have never quite known how to help, as I don't know what they will do with the money if I give it to them. At times it has been very clear to me that they were not intending to use it for the stated purpose. Other times it has been less clear. Sometimes I do give them money. But they very clearly need help. Dan and I were not sure what to do, and as we were trying to figure it out, the gentleman we had met earlier found us. He joined the conversation. Obviously he wasn't about to ask the homeless man to contribute, but he could also see our situation. That man then did something I will never forget, and which I believe was the reason he felt God's prodding to go out in the middle of the night. He told the homeless man, "I can't give you money, but I can take you in to get some food." He then took the man in to 7-Eleven, where he got him something to eat. Dan and I returned to the hotel, thankful and having learned an important lesson.

A couple years later, I was in downtown Seattle, where a man along the side of the road stopped me and asked for some money for food. I thought back to the lesson I had learned in Anaheim, and I asked him what he would like to eat. I went to a nearby convenience store that had some fried chicken (his request), and I selected the biggest piece I could see, and brought it out to him.

Monday, January 23, 2023

An Understatement

I wrote this poem February 10, 2007 in response to a sermon by our pastor on God's holiness, from 1 Peter 1.



They don’t even come close!


Our words hardly scratch the surface
of what God is.

What words can describe
God’s wondrous love for us?
How can we begin to express
His awesome holiness?

No words can adequately tell
His amazing care and mercy
That an omnipotent God would deign
To save a poor lowly sinner like me!

His power knows no bounds
Yet His love has no end
His holiness goes beyond anything
That I could even begin to imagine!
His wisdom is so much greater
Than man’s most brilliant breakthroughs
His justice fairer and more terrifying than any can fathom
His mercy and peace far beyond than all comprehension

I can do nothing before such a wonderful, terrible, awesome God
But fall down at His feet
And cry “Holy! Holy! Holy!”

His brilliance goes beyond
All the blinding starry host
Who am I that the dazzling God of the universe
Would gaze at the darkness of my soul
And shine His radiant light of forgiveness
On my unworthy blackened heart?

All of my days I will praise His wonderful name.
As the moon shines the light of the sun,
O holy God,
May my life shine Your love and holiness
On a world in need of Your grace!

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Meeting a Legend

Her story is inspirational. She aspired to be an airline captain from a young age, at a time when that was an occupation reserved for men. She pursued her dream, rising from pilot to flight engineer, and eventually became American Airlines' first female captain in 1986. On September 11, 2001, she was flying from Paris to Dallas when she heard on the air-to-air frequency that the Twin Towers had been hit, and New York airspace was closed, followed shortly thereafter with airspace across the country. She was ordered to land in Gander, Newfoundland, where she experienced hospitality that amazed her. Her story is told in the musical Come from Away, and I interviewed her over the internet in 2018 for a blog post for All Things Broadway. In later blog posts (here and here), I told about when the national tour opened in Seattle and I got to meet several people whose stories were included in the musical. Kevin Tuerff invited me to attend an exclusive viewing of the documentary You Are Here: A Come From Away Story, where I met him, Nick and Diane Marson, Beulah Cooper, Bonnie Harris, Kevin Jung, Oz Fudge and others. Though she couldn't make it to the viewing, I met Diane Davis a couple weeks later after attending the musical for the third time. What I did not mention in those blog posts, because it hadn't happened yet, was meeting Beverley Bass. She also couldn't make it to the viewing for the documentary because she had needed to leave earlier in the day.

In 2019, Captain Beverley Bass released her children's book Me and the Sky. I promptly ordered it on Amazon. I also found out she was coming to Seattle! Since I had interviewed her previously and greatly admired her, I sent her a message to see if I could meet her. We arranged an appointment to meet at her hotel near Boeing Field in South Seattle. As I had ordered her book online, I was a little worried it wouldn't arrive on time, but it arrived the day of the appointment, before I left! I had also recently obtained the companion book to the musical, Come from Away: Welcome to the Rock: An Inside Look at the Hit Musical, which had also just come out. With both books, I made the trek south to meet one of my heroes!

We met in the lobby and she gave me a big hug. We went to the hotel café, where she bought me coffee (she rocks!), and we talked. I don't recall a lot about the conversation (I didn't take notes, as it wasn't an interview :-) ), but the meeting was very memorable. She hadn't seen the companion book yet, so she excitedly leafed through my copy. Neither of us had a Sharpie handy, so she borrowed one from the hotel and signed both books. (Unfortunately, I'm not sure why, but the ink faded quickly. Does anyone know if it's possible to restore faded Sharpie ink?)

It was a day I will never forget, when I met a legend who made history. I felt honored that she took time to hug, to talk with me, and even buy me coffee!

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Walking with Grandpa

I wrote this poem in November 2005 in honor of my grandpa's 90th birthday a couple months earlier. As we lost him nearly ten years later, I added a verse today, and also changed the fourth verse from the present tense to the past tense.

Early 80s

Grandpa was a prolific walker. He walked daily, and it was partly due to that practice that he lived so long, nearly making it to 100 (only four months short of it). He challenged us to do the same, and he typed up his walking philosophy for us. I have been working on doing that more lately.

Grandpa's Walking Philosophy

Some of my best memories of Grandpa were walking and running with him. When they visited us in the Philippines in the early 80s, he and I walked from our house to our school. It wasn't all that far, but it was a fair distance, part of that uphill. It's one of my earliest memories. A few years later, we were back in the US and he, my dad, my brother and I went to see the Seattle Sonics play the Golden State Warriors in Seattle. During the game it started pouring, and when it got out, we had to run through it to the car! We were soaked to the bone. In 1994, we went as a family to Hong Kong to teach English to students preparing for a major exam. When we were all together walking through the streets of Kowloon, the rest of us practically had to run to keep up with him, as he was a very fast walker!

He was a World War 2 veteran, and he raised a family of five children on a very tight budget. He pastored at multiple churches, and his legacy lives on around the world. He was my hero.

On we walked
My grandpa and me
Under the brilliant Philippine sun
We were walking to school
An excited little boy and his loving grandfather

On we ran
My grandpa, dad, brother and me
Under an unusually strong Seattle rain
Down the sidewalk from the basketball arena
We piled into the car, soaked.

On Grandpa walked
As we tried to keep up
Through the busy streets of Hong Kong
Grandpa at his normal walking pace
And us younger folks nearly running

On Grandpa walked
Around the block, around the mall, and through life
Leading the way, shining his light
A brilliant example of a life well lived
For his children and for God

On Grandpa dances
On the brilliant streets of gold
In the arms of his beautiful bride and his glorious Savior
His race has been run and he has heard "Well done!"
A hero for the ages

Christmas 2014
Grandpa's 100th and last Christmas
He would graduate to heaven the following May

My college graduation, 2000

Friday, January 20, 2023

The Purple Lady

It was 1986. We were living in the Seattle area at the time, and a travel group my grandparents were involved with did a trip up north to Vancouver, BC, Canada, to attend Expo '86. Seattle held the World's Fair in 1962 (before my time), and we have the Space Needle as a memory of it. Now it was Vancouver's turn. Being that I was 8 at the time (I turned 9 later that year), I only have a few memories of it. One was the sculpture of cars in the sidewalk. Another was when my glasses fell off and shattered. (Thankfully, I had a spare pair back at the hotel!) They had pavilions (the fair, not my glasses). There was a building shaped like a globe (which is still there, picture at the bottom of this post). 

Another memory I have is The Purple Lady.

As I remember it, we encountered her in the crowd. She was dressed entirely in purple. She had a purple purse and purple hair. I seem to recall her wearing a purple hat as well. As we were right next to each other, we got talking. She was very friendly. I don't remember the specifics of our conversation, though I do remember discussing the plethora of purple (even if I don't think I knew the word "plethora" at the time). She gave me a purple business card with her name and the title "The Purple Lady." (I had the card for years, but don't know where it is now, or if I still have it.) I love how she marched to the beat of her own drum. She stood out from the crowd, and she didn't care. That child-like attitude still inspires me.

A few minutes ago, in preparation for writing this blog, I googled "Purple Lady" and discovered some videos about one! She is around 80 now, which would have put her in her early 40s in 1986... I seem to recall the Purple Lady I met looking like she was in her 70s at the time, but as I was 8, my perception may have been a bit off. I don't know if this is the same Purple Lady, but Sandra Ramos lives in a purple hut in New Jersey, with a purple car, a purple bike, and just about everything else in purple. That's a long way from Vancouver, of course, but as it was the World's Fair (opened by Prince Charles and Princess Diana), there were visitors from all over the world. Maybe? Over the past decades, she has been an activist for battered women and homelessness, advocating for peace, and more, and is also very in tune with nature and making the world a better place. I think there's a lot we can learn from her (possibly two women, but maybe the same person) about going through life with a child-like (which is very different from childish) and purposeful attitude, with a determination to better everyone and everything around us.

Following are a couple videos about Sandra Ramos, The Purple Lady, one from four years ago, and the other from last year:

Expo '86
Science World/Getty Images

Thursday, January 19, 2023

The Carabao and the Storm

...or "Steven Channels His Inner Aesop"... I wrote the following poem March 29, 1995 as part of an assignment in a high school English class. This part of the assignment was to write a poetic fable. 

A carabao, also known as a water buffalo, is a bovine that is used in several Southeast Asian cultures to assist in planting rice and other farming tasks, similar to an ox in other cultures. It is pronounced "care a bow" and rhymes with cow. They are are a common sight in the Philippines, and I remember going to sleep at times to the dulcet tones of local carabao and cats having spirited conversations. ("Moooooo!" "MEOW!" "Mooooo!" "MEOW!!" They were clearly conversations, as they alternated, and I never heard them speaking at the same time.)

Philippine Carabao
Photo by Cabajar
CC BY-SA 3.0 license

Off in the distance...
Everybody ran
Away from the flooded rice paddies
Except for one carabao
Who said, "Silly carabaos!
What chickens!
I’m staying here!
There’s work to do!
My master will be proud of me!
But who will reward those cowardly carabao?
Not me, I’m brave!
Why, I’m the bravest carabao of the lot!
Aren’t I grea----"

Next morning, all of the carabaos returned
To find a dead carabao
Lying in the slop.

"Pride goes before destruction,
     a haughty spirit before a fall." (Proverbs 16:18)

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

The Queen of 44th

She was known as the Queen of 44th. She had lived near the corner of 44th and 212th, on the border of Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace, Washington, for years. I don't know a lot about her. I don't even recall her name. But what I do know is simple and profound.

Every morning, she sat in her wheelchair in front of her house, waving to passersby on the busy 44th Avenue West with a smile. When I walked by on her side of the street, she talked to me and always brightened my day. Sometimes even when I was walking on the other side, she would call to me and wave. Articles in the local newspaper reported that firefighters and other workers in stressful occupations looked forward to passing her house, because she was always there with a smile and a wave. She had a way of making tensions melt away in the simplest of ways!

Photo by De Visu/Adobe Stock
(I don't have a picture of the Queen of 44th,
so a stock photo it is!)

As the community continued to grow, developers wanted to buy her property to make way for retail space. But she refused. So while the houses around her disappeared to make way for Albertson's, Blockbuster, Little Caesar's, and other stores and restaurants, her house stayed there and she continued to wave to everyone around. As her mobility was declining, the community came together to replace the steps leading up to her door with a wheelchair ramp.

She was one of the most beloved people in the community.

Over the years, there has been a lot of change. Albertson's is now Safeway. Blockbuster is now O'Reilly Auto Parts. Her house is now an empty lot. But that stretch of sidewalk and that lot where a house once stood with a kind old woman in a wheelchair remains, a memory of a time gone by and someone who taught me the deep, profound value of a simple smile and wave. Kind deeds can be complicated, but they don't need to be. Sometimes all a person needs to brighten their day is a kind smile, a wave, a friendly greeting.

Considering how much time has passed since then, I'm sure she has passed on by now. I'm not sure what happened to her when she no longer sat along 44th and brightened everyone's day. But she left a profound legacy, even to a teenager who hardly knew her, and now thinks back more than 20 years later to remember. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

I Should Go Back to the Sea

The beaches and coral reefs in the Philippines are breathtaking. With so many islands, if we reached a beach that had anyone on it, we could just take our bangka (rowboat with pontoons) to the next island, where the beach may be deserted. Snorkeling is amazing. They also have glass-bottom boats where you can look through the glass floor of the boats to see the beauty below. The coral, fish, and other sea life present a spectacular kaleidoscope of color. The country has around 7100 islands. As some of them are tiny, the number varies depending on the tide. (I'm not sure where exactly the below picture was taken, but it's similar to what you can see snorkeling in the Philippines.)

I wrote the following poem for an assignment in 6th grade, in 1989 or 1990. I put it on a big sheet of paper and drew sea life around it.

Underwater World
Photo by Fascinating Universe
CC BY-SA 3.0 license

I should go back to the sea, the empty, rippling sea
I should go swimming in it, the mighty wet sea
Where all the seahorses reign, the urchins and squid and octopi
All the cute little fishes and the not-so-cute sharks.

I should go back to the sea, the world of plants in the sea
I should go swimming in it, the wonderful "land" of the sea
Where the seaweed sways, the sponges and algae and anemones
All the tiny diatoms and the not-so-tiny kelp.

I should go back to the sea, the full wavy sea
I should go swimming in it, the wonderful "land" of the sea
Where the seahorses reign, the sponges and squid and anemones
All the tiny diatoms and the not-so-tiny sharks
I should go back to the sea.

Monday, January 16, 2023

Fighting Racism

My job that I have had for the past 5+ years has taught me a lot. I feel I grew professionally, but I also learned lessons that I hadn't expected. One of those involves racism in America. Prior to that, I looked at all the laws in place and the way minorities are a much more integral and important part of our society, and I thought that meant Dr. King's dream had been fulfilled. I had no idea how far we are from realizing it.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Steven Sauke, 2013
Adobe Illustrator

Growing up as a racial minority in the Philippines, I experienced racism as a child. The most dramatic that I remember was in periods of unrest when we had to stay indoors because it was too dangerous to go out due to the color of our skin. There were reports of white people being shot when they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. We even found a bullet hole in our roof once, when the rainy season started and the ceiling above my bed sprang a leak. There were also more innocuous experiences, such as strangers coming up to me and pinching my white cheeks, saying, "Cuuuute!" That made me very uncomfortable. They associated Americans (anyone with white skin) with GI Joe, and people would often call, "Hi, Joe!" as we passed on the street. I just took that as them trying to be friendly. People would also stare at us, and sometimes point and say to each other, "Amerikano!" So coming back to the US, I thought I understood racism, and was thankful to be in a country that (I thought) had gotten past that. At times I even thought people had overcompensated and started discriminating against white people here. While that does happen sometimes, I have learned it isn't nearly the problem I thought it was, and I was looking through the lens of white privilege, which I didn't even think was a thing at the time. I heard of riots and protests related to racism, and was disgusted at the destruction and what my white privilege perceived as overreactions and entitlement. While I do not condone destruction and violence (and neither did Dr. King), I have learned that a lot of their anger is justified. As Dr. King once said when pressed to condemn riots, "A riot is the language of the unheard." To put that in context, this is an excerpt from his speech The Other America (1967):

But at the same time, it is as necessary for me to be as vigorous in condemning the conditions which cause persons to feel that they must engage in riotous activities as it is for me to condemn riots. I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation's summers of riots are caused by our nation's winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.

One thing I have believed for years, and now believe more than ever, is that we need to listen to people from other backgrounds and other perspectives. We need to heed what they say. We need to extend respect that we have far too often withheld. I don't pretend to have reached the pinnacle of anti-racism, and I still struggle with racist thoughts at times, which I have to fight.

Working with an amazing and racially-diverse team has taught me a lot. But one thing in particular has come from watching my incredible manager, one of the kindest and most professional people I have met, go through blow after blow after blow. She has lost multiple relatives and friends just in the years I've known her, to shootings. She has endured unimaginable pain and loss, and managed to maintain her positivity and dignity through all of it. I can't express enough how much I admire her. Other coworkers have gone through similar pain and loss. This has opened my eyes to the fact that we have a long way to go in fighting racism in this country. 

Having experienced racism in the Philippines has taught me a lot, and I feel helps me to identify more with minorities here, but it is nothing compared to the horrifying tribulations they have experienced. Nobody deserves that. A year or two ago, I had a white person, a friend of a friend, try to convince me that the term "white privilege" is itself a racist slur (something I once believed myself), and she refused to truly listen as several people tried to explain that it is a statement of fact, not a slam against white people. We don't generally experience what people of other races have gone through in this country, even in recent years. We aren't usually targeted due to the color of our skin here. To say that a group of people has privilege is, in itself, neither a slam nor a compliment. It's just a statement of fact. It's what we do with that privilege that can become a problem. It's when we decide to apply a different standard to someone with a different color of skin, or start thinking of them as less.

One thing that has spoken volumes to me is the end of Martin Luther King's I've Been to the Mountaintop speech. I have trouble reading it aloud without tearing up. (I encourage you to read the entire speech by clicking on the link in this paragraph. It's powerful.)

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

And so I'm happy, tonight.

I'm not worried about anything.

I'm not fearing any man!

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!!

Dr. King delivered that speech April 3, 1968. He was assassinated April 4, 1968, the following day. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is one of my heroes. I once thought his dream had been realized, but I now realize we have a long way to go. We need to listen to each other. We need to extend to everyone the same respect we would to anyone else, no matter the color of their skin, their religion, or anything else. Everyone needs love, care and respect. Think how many riots and other unrest we could prevent if we could just listen to voices like Dr. King and others! 

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Stars and Electrons

I wrote this poem March 15, 2003. I have always been fascinated and amazed by the sheer massiveness of the stars and galaxies. I was even more amazed in the introduction to chemistry in college when we learned about atoms. I had learned about them in science class previously, and I remember learning in elementary that the atoms in one grain of sand were more numerous than all the leaves on all the trees in the world. In college, our textbook said that if you were to expand an atom to the size of a football stadium, the nucleus would be the size of the period at the end of this sentence. I forget how many tons the nucleus would weigh. The electrons that orbit the nucleus are even smaller! Stars and electrons, despite their massive distance in size, both mindbogglingly gigantic and mindbogglingly microscopic, have a lot in common.

NGC 4414, a galaxy in the constellation
Coma Berenices
Image by NASA

Titanic balls of fire
Placed by God in the heavens
Mere specks in His eyes
They glow in the sky
Far larger than I can imagine

How is it that the God who is so much larger than the stars
Can care for me -
One who is a mere speck
Compared to the stars?

The stars orbit in an endless round
In their clusters and galaxies they orbit
And the God who made these galaxies
Huge beyond my imagination
Cared enough to send His only Son
To die for me!

Tiny balls of matter
Placed by God in the atoms
So much smaller than specks in our eyes
So much tinier than we could begin to imagine

Electrons orbit in an endless round
In large numbers they orbit
Around the nucleus of the atom
The atom - like a galaxy to the electron
And how many atoms are in a single cell?
Countless millions of atoms in a single grain of sand!

How is it that the God who created the unimaginably humongous galaxies
Also created the unimaginably tiny electrons?

What a wonder
That such an amazing Creator God
Could care enough
To send His only Son
To die on a cross for me!

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Night Falls on Wireless Advocates

In his novel The Last Battle, CS Lewis concludes his Chronicles of Narnia with a dark ending and a glorious new beginning. It has a chapter called "Night Falls on Narnia," in which most of the humans from England that we have met throughout the series are gathered around a door looking through it to the dying land of Narnia. The great Lion Aslan has just called to the giant Father Time, way off in the distance, who blows his massive horn. Stars come shooting out of the sky, and walk through the door as living beings. The inhabitants of Narnia and the surrounding countries come racing up to the door, and with one look at Aslan, either flee in terror or come through to marvel at the wonders around them. Waters rise, and the sun devours the moon. Father Time then squeezes the sun out, and all is blackness and water and ice on the other side of the door. Aslan tells High King Peter to shut the door and lock it, which he does. Queen Lucy and King Tirian mourn the country they have loved and ruled at different times in Narnia's history.

While I don't want to carry the analogy too far, a major part of my life over the past 5+ years has come to an end, and night is falling on Wireless Advocates. While it's nowhere near the apocalyptic end that the old Narnia had in The Last Battle, it has been very tough to watch and experience. Over 1800 employees around the country found out at the beginning of last month that their jobs had abruptly ended. We at national headquarters were given 60 days notice, per the WARN Act, and we were to be employed through February 5. Yesterday, around 65 of us (I forget the exact number, but it was in the 60s) were summoned to a meeting called by the receiver assigned to help liquidate WA's assets. They informed us that they had determined that we were not protected by the WARN Act, and they had decided to let us go. (They are double checking with the King County courts to verify this is appropriate, and they have a contingency plan in the event the courts disagree. Seattle is the county seat of King County.) It caught everyone, including management, by surprise. Wireless Advocates' executives disagreed strongly with their decision and fought it, but the receiver had the final say.

Over the past day that I have had to process this shocking development, close down business affairs, sleep on it, consider where to go from here, I have gone through a lot of emotions. While I always like to remain optimistic, this was a severe blow. There have been tears. I have felt a gamut of emotions, including sadness, anger, fear, and as I continue to process, hope. I do not fault Wireless Advocates, or even Costco, for what has gone down. I appreciate how supportive our management and executive team has been through all of this, and I still could not have asked for a better employer over the past years. They have fought for us, and done everything in their power to make this as painless as possible (though, admittedly, there's only so much they can do). I continue to be amazed and eternally grateful for how helpful and supportive everyone has been, even after many of them lost their own jobs, to help.

To help dispel some rumors I have seen flying around the internet, one article I read stated that Costco was "blindsided" by Wireless Advocates when WA announced they were closing. It was actually Costco's decision not to renew their contract with us. I don't fault Costco for that, as I'm sure they had their reasons, but I definitely don't think WA deserves all the negative press they have been receiving. My theory is that individual Costcos had no warning, so were indeed just as shocked as everyone else to find the WA kiosks were closed. But this decision came from Costco, not WA. Due to declining demand due to COVID and less demand for 5G than expected, WA decided to end their relationship with military bases. There was blindsiding happening, but it was not Wireless Advocates blindsiding Costco. In the interest of remaining as positive as possible, I am not here to point the finger.

I'm not sure how many are left at the national headquarters, but there are a few people remaining who will continue to work on closing down the business.

Yesterday afternoon, I worked on closing things down on my side, filing for unemployment, and preparing for job searching in earnest. I have sent resumes over the past couple weeks, but that has been in addition to responsibilities at work and other things. Like Lucy and Tirian, I am mourning for the home I have known over the past few years.

Back to The Last Battle. The Friends of Narnia are in mourning. As Tirian eloquently puts it, "It were no virtue, but great discourtesy, if we did not mourn." But as they are joined by more friends, including the talking dogs, the Calormene Emeth (Calormen is a country south of Narnia), the eagle Farsight, the donkey Puzzle, the unicorn Jewel, and more, they are repeatedly encouraged to "Come further up and further in!" Flying high overhead, Farsight the Eagle discovers that, though they just witnessed the old Narnia's end, they are now in a much larger and grander version of Narnia. Everyone runs faster than they realized they could and marvels how they aren't tiring out, and at the wonders of the new world around them. A few years ago I painted one of my favorite scenes in the book, when they reach Caldron Pool and find themselves, much to everyone's shock, swimming up the waterfall!

Further Up and Further In!
Steven Sauke, 2012
Acrylic on canvas

They eventually find themselves in the garden where Polly and Digory flew with their friend Fledge the winged horse so many years ago (in The Magician's Nephew). There they are greeted by one of Narnia's greatest heroes, Reepicheep the Mouse. Tirian meets his late father once again, and they see everyone they once knew. Over a nearby lookout, Lucy and her old friend Tumnus the Faun see a new London on a cloud and her late parents waving to them. The final chapter is called "Farewell to Shadowlands." Though I'm not generally big on spoilers, the book ends thus:

“There was a real railway accident,” said Aslan softly. “Your father and mother and all of you are–as you used to call it in the Shadowlands–dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.”

And as He spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

While I am thankfully not dead, Wireless Advocates will soon be. In many ways it already is. Now begins a new adventure. I choose to anticipate the future with wonder, looking forward to it with joy and run with all my might to discover what amazing adventure is about to start.

To all my amazing former colleagues, I say, FURTHER UP AND FURTHER IN! Let's do this thing! We haven't scratched the surface of the amazing adventure that is coming! How will Chapter One of your Great Story begin?

Friday, January 13, 2023

Your Smile

My college friend Jenny Paulson had the most radiant smile. She brightened everyone around her, and I count it an honor to have known her. She lived life to the fullest. She was a great friend in college when I knew her, and her special needs students at the elementary where she taught loved her.

February 26, 2010, she was arriving at her school when her life was cut short by a murderer with a gun. I wrote this poem March 9 of that year, after attending her memorial. It is based on my memories of her and those of people who shared at the memorial. One thing that stuck with me from her memorial was when someone said that she lived life "on high octane." She touched so many lives. I know she's up in heaven dancing with her Savior, beaming as she always did in life.

Jenny Paulson
June 23, 1979 - February 26, 2010

Your passion for life
Your love of the Lord
Your care for all you met
These are your legacy

But I remember your smile
That smile that brightened my day
That smile that haunts me and inspires me
With one smile, the world could see:
Your passion for life
Your love of the Lord
Your care for all you met

In that smile are hundreds of memories
Different for each person you touched
Flying over the water on jet skis
And running out of gas on the lake
Remembering birthdays
And making sure they were celebrated
Inviting friends to church
Bringing them to Christ
Taking a break from your work
To eat lunch with your friends
Teaching children to read
And listening to their needs
Seeing the best in everyone
And loving without condition

Your smile touched more people than you know
And for that, I thank you
For that, I know that your smile
Is shining for all of heaven to see
As you smile and dance in the loving embrace of our loving Father
Whose smile is even bigger.

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Pigmentary Degeneration of the Retina

My first grade teacher spoke with my parents. They were noticing that I was having trouble in class and wondered if I had trouble seeing. I didn't know any different, so didn't realize there was an issue. My face was nearly back to normal following the monkey attack earlier that year (though the monkey did just barely miss my eyes...that in itself was a miracle). So my parents took me to the ophthalmologist, who diagnosed me with pigmentary degeneration of the retina. (I was proud of myself for remembering what it was called at that age, as it is a mouthful.) More commonly known as retinitis pigmentosa, it is similar to its cousin macular degeneration, in which the vision slowly diminishes as the retina degenerates. The two conditions go in opposite directions. Where macular degeneration starts with the central vision and works outward, retinitis pigmentosa starts with the peripheral vision and works inward. Both conditions lead to blindness, and neither has a cure. My peripheral vision was starting to go, and the doctor predicted I would be blind by the time I was a teenager. I would never be able to drive. It's likely I was born with the condition. The news was devastating to my parents. They got multiple opinions, just to be sure, but everyone agreed. In October 1984, in first grade at the age of 6, I got my first glasses. The following day, we got our family picture:

I remember my first day going to school wearing glasses. I was embarrassed at first, and it would be years before I actually liked wearing them. With the humidity in the Philippines, where we lived at the time, we quickly discovered that my metal frames rusted due to sweat, so I would have plastic frames for the next few years. (I haven't heard of that happening in recent years, so I'm not sure if there have been developments in that area, or if it was just the pair I had.) As a fairly active kid, I also went through glasses. One memorable time was when we went to Expo '86 in Vancouver, BC, and they fell off and shattered. (Fortunately, I had another pair at the hotel, but I had to go the rest of the day without them until we got back to the hotel. After that we were much more careful to make sure the material they used for the lenses was shatter-proof. I also used straps and cords at times to hold them on my face.)

My parents only told my grandparents and some fellow missionaries about the diagnosis. Unbeknownst to us, my grandparents shared it at a national conference for our mission organization with delegates from around the US and around the world. In short order, people around the world were praying for me.

After second grade, we returned to the US in the summer of 1986. We did this every few years for a year at a time to visit our supporting churches and update them on our ministry, as well as to have time with family. There was a lot of travel involved. While in the US, we went to the foremost expert on retinitis pigmentosa west of the Mississippi. He examined my eyes and found no sign of it!

Retinitis pigmentosa has no cure. It leads to blindness. My vision was going starting from the peripheral vision, and had it progressed normally, I would eventually have had tunnel vision, and then it would be gone. I was forecast to be completely blind by the time I was a teenager, and I would definitely never be able to drive. My RP was completely healed! I love telling ophthalmologists that it healed, as that's something it doesn't do. The retinas don't just grow back, but mine did! I got my driver's license when I was 24 - delayed not because of my eyes, but due to slow reflexes as a child. I still wear glasses, but it is due to astigmatism (the corneas are slightly misshapen, which distorts the vision a bit), a condition I much prefer to blindness. They are mild, and one doctor a few years ago told me I could legally drive without them, though it's better to be wearing them. A more recent eye exam revealed 20/20 vision in one eye (I forget what the other eye was, but it wasn't quite as good). Following is my Optomap of both eyes side by side from a few years ago. (Optomap is a picture of the back of the eye, which presents an alternative to having to dilate the eyes, and you get to see a cool picture afterwards. I find it fascinating.) It shows no sign of RP. The doctor showed me Optomaps of patients with RP, and they showed holes in the retinas. None here.

This was the most dramatic miracle I have experienced, and it has made me super thankful that I can see. By all accounts I should be blind, but I can see! God's healing is mindblowing. It has reinforced the amazing power of prayer. It has also given me a passion for things related to vision. I am thankful for my glasses, and I have done research in recent years to figure out ways of raising awareness of the benefits of them. They don't heal anything, but they can be a big help with seeing things, reading, driving and more. With blue light blockers gaining popularity in the past few years, they can also help to keep (or minimize) harmful kinds of light from causing damage to the eyes. I definitely recommend getting regular checkups, as vision trouble can be subtle, and people often don't realize they need glasses and are surprised how much better they can see once they get them. I feel if everyone who needs glasses actually got and wore them, the world would be a safer place. They sometimes have a bit of a stigma, and I feel they're actually something to be proud of. I want to do what I can to remove the stigma.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Words @ Random

October 25, 2004, I stopped at Tully's for my morning latté on the way to work. They knew me pretty well, and I almost always ordered the same drink that we had decided to call a triple-berry latté. I don't remember if I had started asking for nonfat, no foam and no whip at that point, but they put one squirt of blackberry syrup, one squirt of raspberry, and one squirt of cherry. "Triple berry" was much less of a mouthful than having to say all that, and the baristas were familiar with it. In any case, as the machine was whirring that morning, the barista said, "Airplane." That was a bit unexpected! She was surprised to find out she had said that out loud, and explained that it occurred to her that the machine sounded like an airplane. I commented that it seemed she was saying words at random...then realized that sounded like a song title. So I told her maybe I would write a song and put it on my first album. She liked that. I wrote the song (well, poem), but I haven't recorded an album yet. Maybe someday?

[Side note: A few years later I would start counting calories and discover that daily morning lattés are not the best idea if you need to lose weight. Now I only have them occasionally, generally once or twice during pumpkin spice season. I still drink coffee, though, black.]

A project for a graphic design class
a few years after writing this poem.
I translated the poem into French
and made a poster based on the
visual poems in the Futuristic style.
"Cracked" is the title of the font.

Miniature Schnauzer
Oh the joy of saying words at random!
What a way to chase the blues away
Just saying words at random
People look at me like I'm strange
But what do I care?
I'm saying words at random!
It's so fun being easily entertained!
Which leaves me just one more thing to add:


As mentioned in the caption above, I translated the poem into French for a design project a few years later. Following is the French translation:

Mots au hasard

Schnauzer miniature
Quelle joie de dire des mots au hasard !
Quel moyen magnifique de chasser les idées noires !
On n'a qu'à dire des mots au hasard !
On me regarde comme si je suis fou
Mais ça m'est égal
Je dis des mots au hasard !
Noyer d'Amazonie
Que c'est amusant d'être facile à divertir !
Ce qui ne me laisse qu'une seule chose de plus à dire :
Xylophone !