Saturday, September 10, 2011

Mama T and Amy... then back home

Mama T and Amy, my mug in Mama T's hand
Today we head back home. We will start the morning with breakfast with Mama T (Sarah Rifes mom) and Amy. Mama T is someone that's brings goodness to life.  She glows with joy and Jesus. We spent the morning  listening as she told us of Mark's renovation project.   Mama T is so proud of her new kitchen. Mark did an amazing job.  I love how she desired not for it to be just a place to cook food but a place for community and sharing and understanding Jesus better. Once I meet Mama T, I began to understand why Sarah had so many best friends.  She is so sweet and caring.  We shared stories and laughed and cried and we also shared tools that help believers cope with grief. The past and present of Mark connected and his life became clearer. We enjoyed fresh mango, longon and lilikoi.  Eating all of these exotic fruits actually allowed my view of our creator God to broaden.  I was actively searching for a memorial to remember the trip and Mark. Little did I know it would be playing into a larger story over the past year. When my father died last year I was looking for something practical to take home from his kitchen, something I could use and something I know he enjoyed. It happened to be a Disney mug I can remember him drinking coffee out of.  Mama T offered me coffee and I said I loved the mug.  She said for me to take it as a gift.  I couldn't have purchased a more memorable gift. The connection didn't hit me till later. Dale and I were chatting about how some drink coffee for the caffeine and others for a hobby and others for both. But coffee seems to be a great tool to bring people together and not just to use.  Back to my earlier blog when I wanted to sense the ebb and flow of relationships.  God created us for relationships.  To share joy and to share grief. We have experienced both on the trip. Community is important and what we do with it is often abused.  We left Mama T' and Amy with heavy and sad hearts but also strengthened because we are better for knowing them.  Now back to Hilo to get some souvenirs for the kids.
I am a blessed man

The botanical gardens was our next destination before heading to the airport. It was neat to see how a dream of a philanthropist created a sanctuary of plants and trees and birds for others to enter. It is almost a sensory overload as so many vibrant colors, textures and views are displayed.

I am so thankful for amazing friends in Dale and Jonalyn.  They are friends that know us and grow us.  We are grateful we shared this journey with them.

Audra and I flew out of Kona and Dale and Jonalyn and Finn flew out of Hilo.  We left Hilo and headed to the other side of the island. Thankful we can carry the memories.  Heavily anticipating the reunion with our children and very thankful for those who pitched in and loved them.  If it wasn't for the kids I am pretty sure we would have missed our flight:-)  I am looking forward to one day seeing Mark on the streets with no names.
a hui hou

Friday, September 9, 2011

Last Full Day

fresh mango
I can sense today may be a heavy day. Today began with breakfast with Doug and Greg Rife (Marks brothers) and their families and the day will end with dinner with Amy Kaneko at New Chang Mai, a Tai restaurant.  I really think I could eat at Ken's every morning. Before we met at the diner we grabbed some fresh mangos.  Eating this stuff fresh will literally take your breath away,  it is like eating Hawaii.  We have been taking in the sights, sounds, fragrances and feels but to experience a place with all 5 senses is magical.  We sat down ready to enjoy great food and we weren't disappointed.  It is as if the 3 egg omelet had a cloud in it (thanks Doug).  "Fluffy and large they were"~Yoda.  Greg reminisced about the time Mark and I went to Pennsylvania and he noticed how his little brother had become a punk and he blamed me back then, little did he know we grew that way together.  We laughed and there were some very heavy moments.  I loved the time we had together filling in the holes to many questions we had.  I wish it could have lasted longer.  I feel it is important to introduce you to Wilmay.

This is the same waitress we had on the first visit to Ken's.  She is a great waitress.  Guys beware of Wilmay, nuff said;-)  We said our goodbyes and set out to see what adventure we could go on next.  We found this amazing lagoon. We swam over to an island about 50 yards out.
I really do have eyes;-)
I was the most fortunate and got to bring Finn out to the island due to the fact it got deep at times.  Finn has to be the best tempered kid I have ever met.  He is so laid back and cool, I want to be like him when I grow up.  We spent some time looking around the small island and then I made my way back to shore because our camera and phones were displayed and free for the taking. I swam back to protect.

I love these peeps.
We went back to the room to wash the salt water off and we headed over the New Chang Mai, another one of Marks favorite places.  Amy wasn't there yet so I went in to get a table.  There are two sections, I chose the warmer one (found that out later) but the jazz player was coming to our side so I made a accidental good decision.  Amy is a poet and deep thinker.  She has a kindred spirit.  We shared some of our stories about Mark and she shared some as well.  Connecting the past to the present was very important for me.  What can I learn from all of this?

 There was a subdued moment as the jazz singer sang, "Your Song" by Elton John.  She captured the moment well and Jonalyn remarked how the weight of the song is a bit more than most.  How true.  One phrase sat on my mind, "How wonderful life is while you're in the world".  We said goodbye to Amy but not for long, we are having breakfast with her and Mama T (Sarah's mom) tomorrow morning.  Today was heavy at times, but connecting with incredible people eased the burden.  Mark may have brought us together but it is Jesus that holds us together.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Day Trip

Today we want to explore why Mark loved this island so much.  We got up not really knowing what to do for the day. Through the morning conversation we decided to get some French pastries at Moonstruck Patisserie and head over to Kona to enjoy some of the best snorkleing on the islands. We enjoyed almond, chocolate and bacon and cheese stuffed croissants with a delicious iced coffee on the way to Kona. Thank you Betty for your passion for amazing fresh pastries. I love how one persons passion really can inspire others.  The views headed to Kona were spectacular. It was dark on the way to Hilo the night we arrived so seeing it in the daylight was breathtaking. Beautiful waterfalls, lush rain forests in small valleys and by the time we got closer to Kona it became more like a desert.  Dale and Jonalyn wanted to go to Living Water Church to see the place where Mark was married and took his life, so we ventured there and again we were moved by the amount of joy and pain that Mark experienced at that very spot.  We grabbed a sandwich at Island Lava Java, it was pricy but worth it. We then made our way to Jacks Diving Locker where we knew they rented snorkeling equipment. They told us of an amazing place about 30 minutes south that was some of the best snorkeling on the islands. It was nicknamed by the locals, Two Step. Entering the water for the first time was like entering another world or an IMAX movie. There was coral and many variety of fish and sea turtles. I believe I even saw a dolphin from a distance. At times it was a bit eerie since I watched the movie The Reef a few weeks ago which honed my senses for sharks.  Audra and I swam in the water hand in hand like Alladin and Jasmine, in awe that our Creator wants to make much of us.
After snorkeling we headed back to Hilo.  We decided to take a different route. There are two major roads between Kona and Hilo. One goes along the coast, this is the one that we have gone on each time we traveled. And the other is called Saddle Road which bridges two volcanos. It was simply breathtaking, we climbed to over 6400 feet above sea level and saw a field of lava rock and watched the temperature drop 30 degrees. We quickly entered a construction zone. Unbeknownst to me the speed limit quickly changed to 25 and I was going 54. The one important thing that was missing for the construction zone was construction.  As the blue lights approached I pulled over and I didn't want to end the day with an hefty "construction zone" traffic violation. He took my drivers license and asked me a barrage of personal questions, wrote them down on a pad of paper and gave me a warning. For the next 20 minutes Jonalyn and Dale took it upon them selves to let me know every second that I surpassed the 25 mph limit. Once in Hilo we made our way to Cronies and enjoyed some Ahi Tuna fish and chips.  Now back to the Inn to process the amazing sights and experiences of the day.  Thank you Mark for loving Hawaii, it's wooing me in too.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad
Location:Kona hi

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Learning culture

Inside former Elevate Church
Yesterday was a bit of a blur, it will be nice to experience today with rested, fresh eyes.   Today began with a short walk to an amazing farmers market. Fresh fruit, vegetables and flowers filled the air with a aroma that was sweet and savory. Jonalyn purchased some bananas and shared them with us and they were delightful. We then made our way to Kens House of Pancakes, which had good ratings on Urban Spoon.  French toast made with an area bakery bread and homemade corned beef hash was amazing. Thumbs up on Urban Spoon for finding this delightful diner. I got on my iPhone and found the church building where Mark and Sarah help found Elevate Church. The good news it was only a short walk down from Kens.  Elevate seemed to attract teens and college aged individuals. This is the building where Mark spoke  "Micah Slays the Vampire Christians". Sarah also spoke "Rooted and Grounded in Love" here.  We saw a mural in the back where the nursery is which we are told that Sarah painted.

In front of former Elevate Church
It is neat to see how this husband and wife team really dug their heels in the area and left their imprint on so many souls.  We then made our way to Hilo Missionary Church where he was the youth pastor and then associate pastor. It was from here that, with the church's blessing, that Elevate was created. I went up to the office door and rang the bell. A sweet lady named Janet came to the door and I introduced my self and tears came to her eyes as she understood our visit.  Her children grew up under Marks leadership, and she spoke very highly of Marks impact on them for Jesus.   She brought us to a collage of pictures on the wall featuring a history of the youth group, from beginning to present, several included Mark.
Picture of Mark on wall at HMC
Hilo is not a tourist epicenter, for which I believe I am attracted to. The people are kind and we have met many people that we would like to meet again. We then made our way to Pesto Cafe where we heard was another of Marks favorites. We providentaily ran into Doug Rife, Marks brother, and he came over and we hugged with a deep understanding of grief. We sat and enjoyed fun stories and ate great pizza. I glanced outside and saw Marks mom and dad sipping on red shaved ice and I made my way over and hugged them both and we cried. I had to apologize because the shaved ice they purchased was mostly melted but the time we left. (Mark's Mom and brother Doug traveled with Mark and I to Pennsylvania on our way to visit our girlfriends in Rhode Island the summer of 1992).  Jonalyn helped make the moment more memorable by giving Mrs. Rife a collage of native flowers.  A sweet gesture during a special time.

We were told during this time that there would be a ceremonial 'paddle out' during the scattering of Mark's and Sarah's ashes. What that involves is the parents and family go into Hilo bay in a outrigger with the ashes of both Mark and Sarah and unite them as they enter the water. In order for us to take part we would need to rent some surf boards. The moment I heard this I was excited to take part in a cultural ceremony but nervous because I have never been on a surf board.  I was a bit nervous I was going to fall off or somehow be a distraction. We found a local surf shop that rented us two surfboards so we loaded up and headed over the Happiness Park where the memorial was held. Two pastors from the area reminisced sharing memories with Mark, one of the pastors shared a very special song. Amy Kaneko, one of Marks good friends, shared a moving expression of Shakespeare's Sonnet 116. Then the family made their way to the outrigger and we headed to get the surfboards.  The pastor that Mark and Sarah co-founded Elevate with told Dale and I that we wouldn't do the normal ceremonial splash because the fishing boats drop of the heads of the fish at this time of day and that the easy food attracks the sharks. Great news...especially after watching Soul Surfer a few weeks ago.
The last time I saw Mark he had breath in his lungs and a beating heart, this time he was ash, dust of the ground.  Hard to believe he is gone. After the memorial we headed over to grab some food at a tent prepared for friends and family.  We shared fun stories with Mark's mom and dad and then headed back to the Inn.  A sad day, but a good one.  I miss you Mark, may the Lord make His face to shine upon you.

Audra and Jonalyn in the foreground, Dale and I
in the water

Dale and I after the paddle out

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Longest Day of My Life- Day 1

Tuesday, September 6, 2011 was the longest day Audra and I have ever had. It was not because were in a plane 12 hours but that Tuesday was actually 30 hours long for us. We arrived in Kona, HI by exiting the plane right on the runway, down a set of stairs that they wheeled out to the plane.  Flip flops are the only shoes I brought.  I think I am going to like it here:-)

It was a beautiful, sunny, 82 degree day with a very unique terrain that included huge deposits of lava rock and a gradual ascending landscape that began at water edge and ended with a volcano hidden by the clouds. We picked up our rental and made our way to Living Waters church.  I loved the church slogan which said "Exalting Jesus, Enjoying grace".
This is the place where Mark was married to Sarah. A small stone with:

                 Mark Rife
              Aug 25 2011

marked the spot where Mark took his life.  I did not know Sarah but from what I've heard she was a kind, gentle soul and someone recently remarked that many called her their best friend due to her intense love for others and the way she made people feel special. That love came from a passion for Jesus that I believe Mark and her shared. I positioned myself to see what his last view of earth was, and it was a beautiful azure blue ocean beating against the volcano rock.  I hate the fact I am entering his Hawaii life after his death.  The words to this song came to mind.

Life is full of light and shadow
O the joy and O the sorrow
O the sorrow

And yet will He bring
Dark to light
And yet will He bring
Day from night

When shadows fall on us
We will not fear
We will remember

When darkness falls on us
We will not fear
We will remember

When all seems lost
When we're thrown and we're tossed
We'll remember the cost
We're resting in the
Shadow of the cross

Audra and I left Living Waters and grabbed a much needed caffeine fix from Starbucks and headed out of the dry side of the island and began a 2 1/2 hour journey over to the rainy side which was Marks hometown of Hilo. He hasn't visited here much over the last three years because good memories can sometimes bring pain. The terrain was again strange, it felt at times we were in Colorado, Tennessee and Australia. We arrived in Hilo at night and it is always hard to gauge and get my senses while visiting a place for the first time at night. We went immediately to the airport and picked Dale, Jonalyn and Finn up and headed to Pakalana Inn. 

 I had messaged Amy Kaneko  (one of Marks friends, and someone I connected with on FB after Marks death) a few days ago about Marks favorite restaurants and one place she mentioned was Ocean Sushi deli.

Having not experienced sushi before, I selected a safe dish- Bento B which was fantastic. Dale said it was then best and cheapest sushi he ever had. We headed back to the Inn and chatted for awhile and then retired for the evening. We went to bed a little after 10pm which is 4am ET. With windows open, the ocean air filled the room as we slept, anxiously waiting to see what tomorrow holds.

Monday, September 5, 2011

One question away...

Mark and I using 100% unadulterated skin cancer in a bottle, at least
 thats what we called it:)
I heard somewhere that everybody is two questions away from crying, this past year it has been one question for me.  Tomorrow my wife and I head to Hilo, HI with our friends Dale and Jonalyn Fincher (and Finn too) to remember and honor our friend Mark Rife.  I am feeling very nostalgic and sentimental.  The days seem quieter. I have always thought my sentimentalism as a handicap until a friend said it is a gift. It allows me to sit in moments a little longer than most.  I have a tendency to compare grief, that appears to be a more difficult but it wasn't until Jerry Sittser, in A Grace Disguised says "Loss is loss, whatever the circumstances. All losses are bad, only bad in different ways."  This past year has been the most internally painful of my life.  On October 26, 2010, my dad went to be with Jesus and August 25, 2011 one of my best friends took his life and is now in the arms of his Creator.

This is the email I received via FB from Mark.

 Funny how many times we are not trained to understand the breadth of a moment.   I am not going to explain Marks whole situation, my goal is to be transparent and clear about my struggle and thoughts that were encouraged by Mark.  I then went to Facebook and saw this.

I first met Mark on the Soccer field in Georgia my senior year in high school.  We became very close during my freshman year in college.  For many of you, you may remember Mark and I going around saying 'go gettum sauce' or 'smack it'.  People are still scratching their heads trying to figure us out.  We almost got kicked out of college together and we went on road trips that will forever be etched on my mind.  During our friendship I was able to see almost every side of Mark, his lows and his highs.  Mark and I instantly connected like brothers because of a sensed inclination for both of us to think with our hearts before our heads.  He probably would have been my best man in my wedding if I wasn't so close to my Dad.  He and Sauce (Tony Applegate) traveled to Rhode Island to share in my marriage to the most incredible woman I know. 
Over the past week or so a song has resonated very deeply with me.  U2 has a song called 'Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own' and it chronicles the struggles between Bono and his dad.  Because of the impact Mark's life and death has had on me.  I have become hyper-sensitized to the fact of how community/relationships moves and breathes.  Relationships are more important to some than others, but at the core of our being there was planted a need for it.  Over the next week or so, I plan to journal my thoughts concerning Mark and the fact that I will be engaged in how he lived life while in Hawaii.