Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Celebration of Guam's Sunsets

I took some time during our 16 hours of flying back to the States to further organize the thousands of pictures I have taken during the last two years living abroad. Through this sorting process, I discovered that we have amassed quite a collection of photos of Guam's incredible sunsets. So as the sun sets over our time on Guam (I mean, it's the perfect segue...), here are some absolutely stunning sunsets I am excited to share.
 Sunset over the treeline
 Sun set over the ocean

 Our 1st Guamiversary sunset
 Sunset from Dadi Beach
 Sunset from a mountaintop
Sunset from our driveway

 ... and another
 Sun lowering over Orote Peninsula, taken from Gab Gab
 Sunset behind cloud making shape of island of Guam!
Sunset at Mt LamLam - Best sunset watching spot on the island

 Sunsets casting shadows on the mountainsides below LamLam

Sunset behind LamLam cross

 Back to the driveway

 Around town, sunset views are great from Two Lovers Point
 The beach in Agana
 Asan Beach Overlook

 The backyard of our church in Hagatna
Clouds certainly make things more interesting

Tired of sunsets? Okay, fine... here's a rainbow.

And another one... below us at Asan Beach Overlook

 And another taken from our boat just off the coast of Agat

Sunrises aren't too bad either

Back to the driveway

 This was probably the most memorable of the two years of sunsets... taken in Saipan.

And I think of all of them, this one is my favorite. The sun only settles in this crease at the end of Orote Peninsula a few days a year. We were lucky enough to head to Gab Gab on this exact night at this exact time and snapped this incredible picture.

So many wonderful sunsets... so much to celebrate :)

Thursday, September 27, 2012

So Long, Paradise

 I am writing now from 30,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean… which means our time on Guam has come to its end. Monumental as this day is, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t ready to go. Five weeks of being in transition, and especially the last two in and out of hotel rooms, borrowing a car, plus the draining base check-out process makes a person want to get on with it already.  That said, the view from our 16th floor room of the Marriott in Tumon made those last five extra days on island a little more bearable.
We spent our last weekend on Guam saying goodbye to the places and people that have made this island such a wonderful home and rich experience the past two years. Thursday we checked out of our empty, lifeless Happy Gilmore home and checked into the hotel. Friday we played golf at Leo Palace, the nicest golf resort on the island.
Friday night I led one final youth group get together… a photo scavenger hunt at the outlet mall. A bunch of kids and leaders and parents showed up for the fun. We had a blast collecting silly pictures of monkeys and food court pyramids and videos of manikin proposals and thumb wars with Korean tourists. We went back to the church for dessert and a viewing of all the ridiculous shots full of faces that I am going to miss so much.
On Saturday, Nick and I did one final drive around the southern coast of Guam. It started with a stop at Talofofo Caves so Nick could show me the back entrance to the biggest cave, which I hadn’t seen before. There’s a rope where you can climb the hundred-plus feet down to the bottom (he and his brother did this back in April). But it was slippery and wet, and with so few hours left, I decided I wasn’t feeling that adventurous (you’re welcome, Moms).

So we continued on to Inarajan Pools so I could feast my eyes on my favorite island spot one more time. The surf was powerful and the wind was strong. Rather than soak and wade and dip in the fresh pools, we kept our feet on the limestone this time. We stared out over the ocean and marveled again at its incomparable vastness. We breathed in the salty air and toasted to two unbeatable years of island living.

We wrapped around to the Southern Mountains overlook to peek at Mt. LamLam one last time. The weather was pretty terrible our whole last week… not necessarily pouring, but lots of clouds and wind and very little sunshine. I had hoped for another Mt. LamLam sunset climb last week, but each opportunity was met with an evening sky marred by a blanket of cloud cover. We never made that last climb. It sounds disappointing, but honestly, getting out of here during rainy season was the probably only thing that could make it easier to leave paradise.

The same weekend we were staying in Tumon was also a port call for the USS George Washington, an aircraft carrier strike group that’s based out of Japan. Our friends Ben and Mason (the husbands of the girls I visited in Japan, friends from our time in Coronado) were in town, so we grabbed dinner with them at a favorite restaurant. I ordered parrot fish, a local reef fish, which is one of the tastiest there is and probably not one I’ll be able to get fresh in Virginia Beach. When in Rome…

Sunday morning we awoke for what proved to be the hardest part of the weekend… going to church one last time. Since I was singing, I helped pick the songs, so the service included some of my absolute favorites. At the end of the service, Nick and I stood before the congregation during our farewell and shared what it has meant to be a part of this unique and caring church family. We received our parting gift, our last name carved into a piece of wood from a tree taken from the church property. It will sit on our mantle in our future home and remind us to continue passing on the love and fellowship we found at the Lutheran Church of Guam.
After the service, our church voted to extend a Call (yes, call with a capital C) to one of the pastors who visited a few weeks ago. As part of the Call Committee these past 12 months, I found it very satisfying on our last Sunday that after months of prayer the church was able to take this leap of faith towards its future.

Sunday afternoon we found ourselves at our favorite barbecue spot, our friends’, the Roberts, house down the street from ours. We have spent so many Saturday nights here gathering with different groups of people for a great meal and lots of time-passing porch sitting. We joke that these guys are our long lost brother and sister (since we share the same last name and all). After the last year and a half together of dinners and workouts and venting sessions, I think it’s safe to say that we’re only half joking.
So many great friends from the neighborhood and Nick’s work came out to see us off at the party. I was completely surprised when the girls pulled me aside to fill me in on an extremely unexpected parting gift that has to be one of the most thoughtful gifts I have ever received. It is waiting for me in Texas. I will have to leave you hanging for now until I get my hands on it.

Monday we woke up to the reality of our last day. Nick spent the morning at work receiving his parting gifts and awards from the command and leading one final workout with his buddies. I ran last errands and spent an hour at Gab Gab Beach. I went swimming one more time to absorb the beauty of the reef and the energy of all the life swimming around and through it. I ran into a pod of about 50 squid which Nick and I spotted a week ago for the first time. I smiled thinking about how this place continues to amaze me even in our last days.

Monday afternoon we played a final round of golf at Leo Palace then headed back to the hotel to pick up our visiting buddy Ben for our final meal on island. We went to our favorite Thai place and weren’t disappointed. We dropped Ben off back at his ship on base and made one last final journey down Marine Corps Drive. Along the way we said goodbye to the things we are going to miss… “Goodbye 54 Gilmore. Goodbye LCG. Goodbye YogurtLand… Goodbye fish… thanks for all the memories.” We also said goodbye to the things we aren’t going to miss “Goodbye terrible Guam radio. Goodbye crappy Guam Premier Outlets. Goodbye GTA cell phone service… thanks for all the dropped calls.”

This morning, Tuesday, September 25th, we woke up, packed up, checked out, went to Guam International Airport, and boarded the plane for our one-way journey back to America. As the wheels lifted off the ground, I spent the next few minutes looking out over the land, the land that has become our home, the island that has captured my heart and stretched my soul and seasoned us with life.

As the land disappeared from our window leaving nothing but ocean in our sights, I said my final goodbye to Guam. Island time has come to its end and our two years together in tropical paradise have transitioned into the realm of memories now.

And so a new story begins. And thankfully, as all my favorite stories do, it begins together. A new home awaits us, and even if it won’t be on a tropical island full of palm trees and endless summer, it will still manage to be the most wonderful place in all the world whenever we’re together there.
Guam, though, will forever remain a close second.

Grateful and humbled, refreshed and fulfilled. Thank you, island. I pray my feet may walk your shores again one day. But even if that day should never come, there are island-shaped footprints forever on my heart to remind me of all that has been.

So long, paradise. So long.

Monday, September 24, 2012

What I'm gonna miss

In some ways, Guam is harder to leave than other places I have lived before. Sure, it's possible another island tour may be in our future waaaaay down the road, but for the most part it's safe to assume there is very little chance we will make it back here, presumably ever. There is a whole lot about Guam that I haven't mentioned here that I am going to miss like crazy after we leave. I have collected some pictures over the last few weeks to remind me of some of these people and places and things that have made my time here so special. 

Singing in church. I have been helping out leading music during the church services off and on this past year. I had forgotten how much I love singing and harmonizing. My voice isn't so amazing that I will try to pursue this at our next church, which is why I so appreciate having had the opportunity to sing my heart out on Sunday mornings here while services have been transitioning.

The Fish Co-op. I know I have written a whole Fresh Factor post on this place before, but it really is one of Guam's highlights for us. I have gotten to know the guys behind the counter well, and they know me too... by name, by favorite type of fish, by about what day and time of the week I will stop by. They started throwing in a bunch of extra freebies... free poki, free potato salad, free fish (my whole order one time), and even, yes, free lobster. I hit the jackpot with the Fish Co-op. I am going to miss them. I think they might even miss me a little too.

 My Tuesday morning women's Bible study. These amazing women have helped stretch my faith, carry me through the low points, and have filled the place of aunts, sisters, and cousins here on an island where very few of us have extended family. Together we have dug deep and fought hard to have better control over the words we use, the types of commitments we make, how we spend the precious time we are given here, and how we treat others. So many lessons learned and opportunities to reflect. Tuesday mornings have been my soul food.
My crossfit playground group. This group started back in March. My friend Erin wanted to start getting back in shape after baby #2 and was having to juggle child care options. So we started meeting at the playground by her house. Her baby could sleep and her two year-old could run around while we banged out an intense 20-30 minute crossfit workout. It didn't take long before more moms and kids joined in and we started collecting the equipment for a fairly well outfitted gym. Being the only regular without kids, you might presume I was a bit out of place. Let me tell you, I have never seen a more motivated group of women working out than those who are trying to lose baby weight after having their second (or third) child! There was no lack of intensity or enthusiasm from these girls. They are all in ridiculously good shape.

 Our dinner party group! These two other couples from church started a dinner group where we'd take turns eating at each other's houses once a month as schedules allowed. Three of us worked for the church and the other halves are all active duty Navy or Coast Guard. We always had a great time together and I am going to miss them like crazy. This picture is from our last-hoorah karaoke night :)

We have already moved out of our house and are staying at a hotel for our last few days on island, so this picture is something I already miss... the sight of our beach towels, hiking shoes, snorkel gear, etc., drying on the clothesline between the carport and the kitchen window. To most of you it probably looks like laundry. But to me it represents recent adventures in Guam's fabulous sunshine, exploring the jungle or the ocean or just laying on a beach somewhere. Never thought I would miss a clothesline.
Guam's zoo of yard critters. There was almost always a big frog hiding burrowed underneath the flowers in our planter box in front of the house. And we got used to the surprise of geckos behind doorways and shower curtains. And of course I'm doing to miss the herb jungle, though I am already making plans for our herb garden in Virginia Beach. We found a great home for all of our herbs, someone who was beyond excited to take care of them for us. I know it sounds silly, but it makes my heart happy knowing our little herb babies will be well cared for.

 Golfing on Guam. I know we will have plenty of golf courses where we are going, but the beauty about golfing here is that you pretty much never need a tee time. If you want to spontaneously show up on a beautiful, sunny Sunday afternoon without a tee time, no problem! And some of the views are just stunning. I will miss the high cliff views over the ocean.

My friend Kate! I finally made us take a picture because after a year and a half of meeting up almost every week for yogurt, coffee, lunch, or the beach, it dawned on me that I didn't even have a picture of one of my closest friends! The great news is that Kate and her family are also moving to the Hampton Roads area and will be arriving only about a month after we get there. What I will miss, though, is this glorious free schedule of mine that has allowed me to squeeze in our get togethers between staff meetings, worship practice, and errand running. Resumes are heading out the door, so that aspect of paradise will likely be find its end shortly, even though (thankfully!) my get togethers with Kate will continue.

And last but not least... yes, youth group. The hard part of getting to know so many kids so well is that you want to keep watching them grow up. Some of these kids had just finished up fifth grade when I got here and are now a month into eighth. We've spent a lot of time together here and there throughout each week, and they really are all special to me in one way or another. Thank goodness for FaceBook so we can keep in touch :)

Not much time left... just a few hours, actually! Grateful to be leaving a place that has been so good to us. Now to sleep ahead of the long flight back... in the morning. See you soon, America.