Yesterday

Yesterday, I drove from Dallas to Houston to attend the funeral of my dear friend’s mother. I had only met Ms. Shirley a couple times but I knew her through her daughter, my friend of seventeen years. I knew her through her legacy of her children, and grandchildren; their compassion and yet strong character, their will to succeed as humans and as citizens in a society that can be flawed and heartless at times.

The ministers announced that we were there to celebrate Ms. Shirley and her life. And it truly felt like a celebration.

All those who came to speak, knew Ms. Shirley personally. They referenced, “It takes a village” and said Ms. Shirley had a devotion to her “village” which included not only her kids, but her extended family; nieces and nephews, grandchildren, and even those in her community. Two people from the neighborhood stood up to speak on behalf of the neighbors. One woman, a childhood friend of Ms. Shirley’s daughter, who grew up in the neighborhood, shared that Ms. Shirley often times led that village. Ms. Shirley looked out for her neighbors and was there for the kids in her community. She always had food to share, an ear to listen, and a home that kids could visit and feel safe. She was the neighborhood friend, mother, or grandmother that helped keep her community strong. The woman then expressed her gratitude to Ms. Shirley and asked all those villagers from the neighborhood to stand, which they did so proudly.

The minister referenced “the dash”.  He asked if we all knew what the dash meant and then went on to explain. On our tombstone, we have a date of birth. Then we have a date of death. The dash between those two dates represent all the time we spend in between life and death.

Ms. Shirley, who married, had six children, was widowed, and became a single working mother, was still able to find food, time, and money for not only her family, but also for her village. Her nephew declared that her faith carried her through difficult times.  Then he joked how Ms. Shirley sometimes would say that the younger generation didn’t know how to stretch a dollar. As a single mother myself. I could appreciate that. Although, I only had two mouths to feed, mine and my son’s, I still understood what it meant to be on your own and how to make a dollar stretch.

As I sat there in the pew, I heard one minister say how Ms. Shirley would not come back for anything in the world because she was at home, in peace with her father in heaven. While I do mostly agree, in my ear, I heard her say that she would give one more day to be with her kids. I couldn’t help but wonder if Ms. Shirley whispered this in my ear so I could share her words with her children. And what loving mother wouldn’t give to have one more day with her kids. Being a mother myself, given the chance, I would. And no doubt in my mind, that Ms. Shirley would also.

As mothers, we try to impart our wisdom, our teachings, and our lessons to our kids so that we can prepare them for their future. Our legacy is not only in their genes, but in our words spoken to them and in their childhood experiences and memories. Every moment we spend nurturing our children carries on to future generations.

The same is true for those in our community. Our kids are paying attention. I remember on two different occasions my sons acknowledging me for something I did for another person, a random act of kindness. Afterwards, they said, “That was really nice of you”. Funny, because I don’t remember what I did, but I remember their response. It touched me greatly. I thought to myself, these are lessons I want my sons to remember. No doubt, that Ms. Shirley’s children were impacted by her generosity and outreach in her community. I know that my friend, her daughter, is one of the most generous and giving persons I know and I feel truly blessed to call her friend.

In a world where we hear too often about mass shootings, hatred, bigotry, and divisive opinions, it is so refreshing to hear about one woman who loved her family and her community and how that community grew, bonded and became stronger because of her.

 

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Frederick Douglass

 

The Dash Poem, by Linda Ellis

I read of a man who stood to speak
At the funeral of a friend
He referred to the dates on the tombstone
From the beginning…to the end

He noted that first came the date of birth
And spoke the following date with tears,
But he said what mattered most of all
Was the dash between those years

For that dash represents all the time
That they spent alive on earth.
And now only those who loved them
Know what that little line is worth

For it matters not, how much we own,
The cars…the house…the cash.
What matters is how we live and love
And how we spend our dash.

So, think about this long and hard.
Are there things you’d like to change?
For you never know how much time is left
That can still be rearranged.

If we could just slow down enough
To consider what’s true and real
And always try to understand
The way other people feel.

And be less quick to anger
And show appreciation more
And love the people in our lives
Like we’ve never loved before.

If we treat each other with respect
And more often wear a smile,
Remembering this special dash
Might only last a little while

So, when your eulogy is being read
With your life’s actions to rehash…
Would you be proud of the things they say
About how you spent YOUR dash?

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HAPPY LABOR DAY, AMERICA

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Today started out an ordinary day.

I had scheduled a vacation day to start my holiday weekend early.  I got up at 8 am, got showered, and put on a pot of coffee.  I had a busy day planned to get all my errands done before we headed south to Houston this weekend for my best friend’s daughter’s wedding.

I had scheduled the painters to come and redo my bathroom shower.  I scheduled it for this weekend knowing we would be out of town and we would not be able to use the shower for 48 hours.

A young man knocked on our door around 9:30 am.  Our dog, Lana, has anxiety issues and gets nervous when visitors come over, especially if she doesn’t know them.  She was barking and growling.  I opened the door and asked him to wait while we put our dog away.  He looked at me a little confused and responded in Spanish.  I know the Spanish word for dog but couldn’t remember it at the time.  After trying to explain to him in English a few times, it became clear that he and I could not understand each other’s language well.  I finally responded, “Uno Momento”.   He smiled, said, “Ah,” and nodded his head.  At last, we made a connection.   I light-heartedly tell him that I speak poquito Español.  He chuckles and reply’s that he speaks little English.

We get Lana put away and I invite our painter guest inside.  He begins to speak to us in Spanish again.  We’re both using hand gestures mixed with English and Spanish word sentences.  I am partially deaf so using hand signals for communication works for me, although I am not fluent in ASL either.  I turned to my son and ask him to translate in Spanish, who looks at me like a deer in headlights.  In my mind, I was thinking, “Dude, you took TWO years of Spanish in high school.”  Jaren then typed a sentence in his iPhone, then translated it into Spanish.  Modern technology has it benefits.  Jaren shows it to the painter.  The painter quickly understands and said, “Perro”.  I said, “Si, our perro.”  I was trying to tell him that we were putting our dog in the kennel because she was barking and growling and I didn’t want him to be fearful while he was here painting.  He explained to us that we needed to take our dog out of our home for a few hours because the fumes from the paint were dangerous for dogs.  I confirmed I understood and got Lana ready to leave.

I had previously scheduled an appointment for Lana at the Vets today for a follow up from an earlier injury and to get her nails trimmed; although, the appointment was not until later, at 1:30 pm and it was currently 10:00 am.  Thankfully, our Vet is a VCA hospital which has both pet daycare and overnight boarding services.  I figured I could just use their daycare services for a few hours, drop Lana off, run some errands, and then stop back for her appointment.

Lana and I walked into VCA.  I tell them I need to board her for a few hours before her appointment because of the paint fumes in our home.  While they begin the paper work, I see a lady with a small dog sitting and waiting for their appointment.  Her dog was somewhat anxious and playful, puppy like.  He was excited to see Lana and wanted to come over and greet her.  The lady tries to contain her dog and keep him close but somehow he gets loose and comes right over to Lana who backs up and softly growls.  Lana can be funny sometimes on whether she wants to be social or not.  I tap Lana with my foot and tell her, “No!”  Just then, the woman comes over and picks up her dog.

The front staff finishes checking in Lana and then takes her back to the boarding area.  I turned to the lady with the dog and asked her if her dog is friendly.  She said yes.  I walk closer.  Her dog comes over to greet me, placing his front paws on my legs.  I ask her what his name is.  She said his name is Louie.  I was like, “Awe, so cute.”  I tell Louie (and his mom) that I was sorry for how Lana acted.  I tell him that she has anxiety issues.  I tell him how cute he is.  The lady said Louie is one year old and was getting his shots before he leaves for Mexico.  The lady was white so I was curious about the story.  I am not sure how exactly I responded but I think I said, “Mexico?”  Then she told me her daughter just died.  My heart sunk right then and there.  I told her that I was sorry to hear that.  She said her daughter’s best friend agreed to take Louie.  She said her daughter had been sick and was in and out of the hospital for the last year.  I wondered if that is why she got Louie, to keep her daughter company.  I asked her if she had other dogs.  She said she already had several dogs which is why she couldn’t keep Louie.  She also said she was planning on traveling over the next several weeks.  I understood.  I was curious about her daughter, how old was she, why did she die.  I know it was some sort of medical condition.  I asked her what her daughter’s name was.  She said, “Caroline.”  I knew there was nothing I could say that would take her sadness or grief away.  And I really didn’t want to waste words on empty clichés.  So I reached over and gave her a warm hug and embraced her for a moment.  I felt her sadness.  She said, “Oh, that’s so nice of you.”  It was all I could think to do.  I felt my embrace may mean much more than my words.

I get in the car and call my son, Jaren.  I ask him how the fumes are.  He said it was so bad that he had to leave.  He was just riding around in his car.  Neither of us had eaten yet so I suggested we meet up somewhere.  We met at local restaurant that I wanted my son to try.  I had been there only once before and enjoyed it.  They have things like quiche and custom cakes and everything is homemade.  We each got a quiche, one Florentine, one broccoli and cheese.  Jaren got chicken gumbo soup.  I got tomato bisque.  We cut our quiche in half and shared it.  Then we just talked.  It was the best part of my day.

We leave the restaurant.  I head for the VCA hospital for Lana’s appointment.  Jaren heads back home.

I decided to stop by my bank real quick, which was on the way to VCA hospital.  My lease ended in August.  I had gone way over my mileage and I didn’t want to be penalized if/when I returned my lease.  I also had a few dings here and there.  And I was concerned about getting an approval with a low rate with no money down.  Mostly, I still loved my Corolla and I was not ready to get another car.  I had stopped by my bank a few weeks prior to see about getting an auto loan.  Aparna, a Relationship Banker was very friendly and helpful.  She called their auto loan division and then put me on the phone to start the approval process.  Within a few weeks, I was approved for the full balance owed Toyota at a low rate.

Since I had began speaking directly with the Auto Loan division after my initial in-person conversation, Aparna called me and left a message to follow up on my auto loan status and approval.  I wanted to return her call but had not had the chance yet.  I thought this was the perfect opportunity to stop by in person to personally thank her.  I was hoping she was working today.  I walked in and Aparna was working and available which almost never happens.  There is almost always a wait to see any relationship banker at this branch.  She sees me and asks if she can help me.  I walk over to her office and remind her that she called and left me a message and that she helped me with my auto loan.  She said she remembered.  I tell her I got approved!  I shook her hand with genuine gratitude and thanked her so much for her help.  She smiled warmly and proudly.  She said she was glad she could help.

I leave the bank and drive to the VCA hospital.  They bring Lana up front and take us to a room for her appointment.  The Veterinarian comes in the room smiling.  She is new to this office.  I like her already.  We talk about Lana.  She says they already trimmed her nails and that Lana looks healthy and is walking fine.  I was happy to hear that.  She says Lana is a sweet girl.  I am touched by her comment.  Lana is a sweet girl but I don’t often hear others say that because of her anxiety, she can appear mean.

Lana was adopted from a local animal services in the summer of 2014.  She was a stray that was found with her canine mom and four other siblings on the streets of Dallas.  I still wonder how they ended up on the streets.  The puppies were two to three months old when found.  Lana has a story but I will probably never know her story.  I have such love and respect for her canine mom.  How she managed to take care of five (maybe more at one time) puppies, alone, on the streets of a large metropolitan city seems like an insurmountable task.  The streets are not a kind place for humans or animals.  That must have been difficult.  As a single mother myself, I understand.  I’m thankful that she and her puppies were found and that animal services were able to help her by finding homes for her puppies.  When we found Lana, only she and her brother were left and he got adopted one day before Lana.  Even Lana’s mom had been adopted before her last two puppies.  I wonder how all those experiences impacted her.

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The Veterinarian confesses that other workers warned her that Lana can be funny sometimes.  She said Lana was fine with her.  She said she just walked over to Lana’s kennel and took her right out.  I smile with pride and tell the Veterinarian that Lana must have sensed a good vibe from her.

As we finished up the appointment, the Veterinarian tells me there is no charge for the visit.  I have pet insurance with VCA so this was not a surprise.  However, nail trimming is not part of the services covered under the insurance.  I had expected to pay $15.00 for this service so I remind her about the nail trimming.  She tells me that I don’t need to pay for the nail trimming today.  She said, “You don’t have any charges today.”  I was delightfully surprised.  I graciously thanked her.

I tell her that I need to leave Lana in daycare for a little longer because I want to be sure the fumes are gone.  I said I was going to run a few errands and would pick her up within two hours.  I tell her I will pay for the daycare services when I return.  Then she tells me that they aren’t going to charge me for the daycare either.  I am thinking, “What?”  She says they are open 24 hours and I can come back anytime.  By now, I am astonished.  I have paid them to trim Lana’s nails before.  I have paid them for daycare.  I have paid them for boarding.  I have paid them for other medical services.  I was truly humbled by their generosity and I deeply expressed my appreciation.

I leave and drive less than a mile down the road to Midas to get my oil changed in my car.  I have been going to this Midas for fifteen years.  They are good guys and good mechanics.  I don’t have an appointment but I ask if they can fit me in.  Charles, the front desk clerk said yes but it will be about an hour and a half.  I tell him that is fine.  In my mind, I am thinking this is perfect because by then, the fumes should be almost gone so I can pick up Lana and head home.

As I sit down, there is another older lady there waiting.  After about thirty minutes, Charles walks over to her and asks her where she got her last oil change.  He shows her a part and says they stripped this which is why you have a leak.  The woman responded she didn’t know she had a leak and asked how much that part will cost.  Charles says about $5.00.  I could see that this woman wasn’t sure she could trust this shop.  I found out that this was her first time to this Midas shop.  I tell her I have been coming here for fifteen years and they are always fair and do not try to sell you something you don’t need.  There was an older male who came in after me who also chimed in with agreement and said he had been going there for years too.  He said another dealer tried to sell him a costly part for his Cadillac one time.  He said he came to Midas for a second opinion who told him that he didn’t need the part.  We both tell her that the workers are long time employees.  Charles walks back in the lobby.  I ask him how long he has worked there.  He replies, “Fifteen years.”  He says that Ken worked there for twelve years and another guy for like ten years.  I tell her they have always treated me like they would treat their mother or their daughter.  They don’t appear corporate like many other nationwide corporate chains do.  They are respectful, personable, and treat their customers like friends.

Binoy tells me my car is ready.  I think, “Already?”  It was less than an hour.  He asked me how I am doing.  I asked him if he remembers me because I had the free, complimentary three-year Toyota service when I leased my new Corolla and I purchased an additional two-year maintenance service from the dealer so I had not been to the shop in a while for service.  However, I would stop by the shop with a question if I needed some expert advise.  I also referred my son there for his first used car purchase.  Binoy said he remembered me and remembered giving me a ride once.  I said, “Oh, yes!”

I told the woman about the time Binoy offered to drive me home one Saturday so I didn’t have to wait around on my then ten-year-old Corolla.  I was having some extra work done that day so it was going to take a little longer.  He also picked me up once it was ready.  Granted, I only lived a couple miles from the shop but still, this is not a service that is expected or provided by this shop.  This shop goes the extra mile for it’s customers.

Binoy then tells me he gave me a $10.00 discount today on my oil change.  I usually have a coupon because I am that kind of person.  Earlier in the day, I thought about going to another lube shop closer to home, since we moved farther away a few years ago.  I knew I wanted to get a quick oil change before our trip to Houston.  But since I was so close, less then a mile away already, and I was going to have to pay full price anyway, I figured I’d rather pay full price here than at any other shop.  So when Binoy gave me the discount without a coupon, I was incredibly grateful.  I humbly offer my gratitude and shake his hand.

I pay, get my keys, and say good-bye.  Binoy says, “God Bless You.”

On the way home, I saw a line of American Flags in front of our Art Center in honor of Labor Day.

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I couldn’t help but think of all the wonderful services all these folks provided to me today as well as to all the other folks.  The various businesses and the various levels of service, some with degrees and some without,  from various people, young and old; black, brown, and white; Americans, Naturalized Citizens, and Immigrants.

I thought about the folks organizing the wedding and who will be working this event this Labor Day Weekend to help make this a memorable occasion for the daughter of my dear friend and the groom and all their family and friends attending.

And then I thought about Perla, another dear friend who offered to dog sit for us while we go out of town for the wedding.

This is what makes America great!  All of these folks each have a story to tell and stories to share, each working, laboring, serving, and volunteering their time and talents to help people like me and you, trying to make a difference, each of us living our experience the best way we know how.  And I am truly grateful for each one of these people, for their services, their smiles, their warm gestures and caring nature, and for their kind and generous discounts and freely donated services.

Today was still an ordinary day but it had extraordinary moments.

I hope each of you has a wonderful Labor Day Weekend.

Please be safe and God Bless You

Volunteer and Service

Jaren and I have done a lot of service over the years.

I would say my passion for volunteering began when my employer asked me to help organize the United Way Campaign for the employees.  It was a week long event where we shared video’s, personal stories, and the many ways to give and serve.  I had benefited personally from United Way charities like the Good Will store that our mother shopped at from time to time for us kids, as a single mother of three.

I began to get more involved in service when I worked with WaMu. They were a very service oriented company and gave their employees 12 hours per quarter to volunteer during work hours.  It was a wonderful gift. It allowed me to do more, as a single mother. Its harder when you’re a single parent.  Time is so precious. Leave in the morning, drop off your child at school, head to work, put in at least an eight hour work day, plus lunch and then pick up your child and head home to cook dinner, homework, sports, spend time together, get them their bath and ready for bed and do it all over again the next day.

I loved volunteering and serving.  I always walked away feeling good.  So I began to look for service that I could do with my son.  I didn’t want for him to be home with a sitter while I was out volunteering.

We served in many different ways, from awareness/charity walks, to serving Thanksgiving dinners at a homeless shelter, to working with special needs kids and many other various events.  It really was so much fun serving side by side with my son.

However, I did do a few things without my son, like in 2006, Jaren’s school invited me to join their Campus Involvement Committee.  It was a one school year commitment.  I enjoyed that and learned a lot about how the schools work.  I also got to provide input.  It was a great group of professionals to work with.

From 2005-2007 I was invited to join the Community Involvement Team at WaMu and was the Secretary for one of those years.

And lastly, one of the employees of UnityDallas asked me to join their committee to help organize their family event, called Where’s the Beach, which I did in 2008 and in 2010.  I was the volunteer coordinator.  It was about a six month commitment for the planning of the event.

When I resigned from the bank in 2012, I volunteered at UnityDallas, my church, for about nine months, working one to two days in the office, answering phones and handling minor office duties.  It was a lot of fun.

Then, when Jaren got to high school, he began to go even further serving with our YOU youth program at church.  He already had the experience.  And he enjoyed serving.  Even when the folks at the church needed a hand, they knew they could ask him.  When they had Open Mic night for the YOUers, who took turns performing along with adults on a small stage, it was Jaren who worked the sound booth, taking a short break here and there to eat or perform his song.  And when he graduated, he was able to get his service recognition, thanks to his sponsors and UnityDallas.  I will tell you, that meant more to me than any academic or athletic award.

Giving service, whether we are thanked or not, whether we get an award or not, whether someone parades us on stage or not is really irrelevant.  In the end, when I walk before God and he ask me and my son, what we did for his people, we will be able to reply, “We did this and we did it humbly with a grateful heart.”

GPS – Plan B

I am in awe sometimes at how the universe works its way in and out of our lives.  I use “universe” as an all-inclusive way; Father-Mother God, angels, spirit guides, transcended loved ones.  I think they all move in and around us, guiding us, showing us, and speaking to us in unorthodox ways.  Sometimes some of us may get caught up in the literal and not fully comprehend when someone is being led by some unforeseen guide.  The spiritual words and lessons are more like codes and it is up to us to pay attention to the details.

Let me give you some examples.

I’ve had some pretty amazing synchronicity experiences or coincidences over the years.  And after I met Brian, my children’s father, things really began to kick up a notch.  I always felt as if we were being drawn to each other.  When we met the first time, I felt as if I knew him, as if we had shared worlds and lifetimes together.  When he looked at me it was as if he could read my every thought and feel every emotion inside my body.  I wasn’t always comfortable with that.  Out of that deep connection and passion we felt for each other, came my first born son, Jaren.

The first time I remember something extraordinary at work in the universe was about six months after Jaren was born.  We were still living in downtown Dallas at the time.  There were four malls that were about the same distance from us; one to the east, one to the west, one to the north, and one to the south.  We’d been to all of them.  This day, I drove to the one west of us which was in Irving.

It was close to the holidays so the mall had extra vendor booths set up in the center of the passageway selling their specialty items.  These booths are seasonal.  Some only come for a day or a weekend.  With Jaren on my hip, I strolled through the mall.  Soon, we came upon a booth that had four rectangular tables in a box formation with two ladies in the middle and binder folders with clear sleeves lying out on all the tables.  Their sign showed they had biblical names with poem meanings.  As I walked closer to look, one of the ladies asked me what my son’s name was.  I told her that I was pretty sure they would not have his name, especially since they were pre-printed inside the clear sleeves.  So she asked me again.  I told her, “Jaren.”  She smiled confidently and pointed to a binder book with the “J” names.  Then I told her she probably had the original spelling of his name.  So she asked me how I spelled it.  I spelled it for her.  J.A.R.E.N.  She again reassured me that they did in fact have it.

I was in awe for many reasons.  First, I didn’t know that Jaren’s name was biblical.  I had not seen it in any bible and when we think of biblical we think of names in the bible.  The second thing is the name Jaren was derived from Jaron, a Hebrew name meaning, he will sing, he will cry out.  And thirdly, I had not seen or heard anyone with the name Jaren or Jaron for that matter so it was an uncommon name.  How often does a person with an uncommon name find their name spelled the way they spell it on something that is already pre-printed or pre-made, not a specialty item made uniquely for them?  I can tell you that I have not since ever seen Jaren’s name pre-printed on anything in any store that I have shopped at.

When we name our child, we want it to fit them.  It’s such a powerful thing to give your child a name.  It becomes a part of them and we want it to say something special about who they are.  I thought long and hard about the name I chose for my son.  This confirmation gave me reassurance that I had listened to my spirit guides and chose the name that was meant for my son.

A year later, our office moved from downtown Dallas to Irving, which I talked about in another post.  Jaren’s daycare was also located downtown a few miles from our downtown apartment.  I would drop Jaren off at daycare and then drive to work in Irving.  Well, about a year later, the downtown daycare closed at that location.  However, the teachers were moving to another location located in a large office building for a well-known, world-wide corporation.  This daycare was designed to serve their employees.  Want to guess where they moved?  Yup!  Irving.  Of all the cities this daycare facility could have been relocated to in the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex, they moved to Irving.  Sure, I could have found Jaren another daycare in downtown Dallas and had considered it but I thought if I moved him with his current daycare at their new location, he would at least have many of his same teachers.  I thought that would be better than having a new building, new teachers, and new classmates.

I began to see a trend.  Something was drawing us to Irving.  And while we didn’t move right away, it wasn’t long after we did move to Irving.  Now, while that is pretty awesome in itself, there is still more to the story.  I would later learn that Brian’s sister worked for that well-known corporation, in that very building that the daycare moved into.  Just to put that in a little perspective:

DallasFort Worth, by population, is the largest metropolitan area in Texas, the largest in the South, and the fourth-largest in the United States.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dallas%E2%80%93Fort_Worth_metroplex

These messages were clear to me and I was able to easily see the path.  All of these choices guided me and my family to our highest good.  I felt optimistic and confident after making these choices.  I didn’t doubt my decision nor felt regret or remorse because the way was clear.  I felt the universe guiding me.  However, I will tell you that has not always been the case.

Example, when I was pregnant with Noah.  My vision was clouded, my ears had a hard time deciphering the truth from all the noise, and my mind was filled with images of doubt.  It’s hard to make a clear choice in this environment.  It’s like sitting on a cliff and people are yelling at you to do this or do that and your mind is filled with chaos.  And any move could be dangerous.  Each person has their reason or motive for wanting you to make one choice over another.

People often simplify adoption and try to sum it up as better or worse, selfless or selfish, brave or weak.  The positives are focused on the relinquishment, implying your child will have a better life and the negatives are fixated on parenting with false unforeseen assumptions that your child’s future will be bleak or worse off.  So, what choice do you think a mother will lean towards?  Something negative or something positive?  Fear can lead a person down a dark path.

The choice that separated me from my second born son was a devastating one, one that I sometimes wondered if I would ever recover from.  I was not at peace, although I acted and thought I was and tried to convince others that I was good with that choice.  I believe it was the denial, the numbness that took over.

When we are no longer able to change the situation – we are challenged to change ourselves. – Viktor Frankl

So here is my take on divine intervention and what is meant to be will be.

Anything that God has intended… is for our highest good.  And I personally believe that if a choice or decision gives you doubt, despair or a negative impact, then it probably was not the path that God had planned for us.  That’s not to say that some choices won’t be challenging or have challenges.  Our daily life has challenges.  Work can be challenging.  The bible is filled with stories of people overcoming challenges.  But something that gives you a bad feeling inside is different than something being challenging.

Jaren and I were talking about this and I said it came to me like this.  God always has a Plan B.  When I mentioned this at a women’s group, one of the ladies said that God has the “Master Plan”.  Well, that’s true.  However, humans do not always follow the master plan.  It’s called free will.  I certainly would not think that God’s master plan is murder, or rape, or child abuse, or slavery.

After watching the movie Lion, it instilled this knowledge deeper within.  Saroo made some choices that separated him from his family.  After deep despair and the point of no return, he had to rely on his choices and fate.  At a very young age, he learned to follow his gut instincts along with his survival instincts.  He was listening to the voice within.  At the same time, God was putting His Plan B into place.

I have a Garmin GPS.  I put in the address and it is pretty good about getting me where I need to go.  Usually I follow it but there have been times when I chose another route.  And what happens when I do that?  It says, “Recalculating.”   The GPS then recalculates the next best direction from my altered direction.  Sometimes when it is really cloudy outside or there is a bad signal, the GPS will go blank and then recalculate.

When I think back to that time with Noah, I don’t believe it was God’s plan one way or the other for me to parent or relinquish my rights.  God gave me free will.  I also don’t believe it was God’s intention for my children’s father to abandon his kids and me during a time we needed him most.  But God gave Brian free will also.  However, I do believe that God was putting into place a family for Noah in the chance that circumstances and choices would prevent Noah from remaining with his original family.  God was preparing for Plan B.  I truly believe that God’s Master Plan is not designed to hurt one to benefit another.  That plays into the whole chosen one mentality.  God is much bigger than that.  Humans hurt.  God loves.  And love does not hurt, despite that old popular 70’s song.

I asked a friend of mine for her thoughts on this.  While her situation is a little different, I thought she could add real perspective.  Kim, her best friend and twin brothers were in a fatal car accident while on a double date during our freshman year in high school, leaving one twin and one friend alive, and one twin and one friend dead.  It was a very traumatic event that shook our small town.  This is what Kim said:

Well you know I’ve thought a lot about that. And of course people told me that I was spared to go on and do great things…which of course didn’t turn out that way. My life is wonderful, but quite ordinary. But I’ve wondered why God spared Ricky and I and how different the world might have been had the outcome been reversed. And you know what? I’ve come up with zilch, nada, nothing. When I think about it from God’s perspective it seems like a Sophie’s Choice. I don’t know why I lived and Linda didn’t. My gut feeling is that she would’ve gotten married and had kids and grandkids just like I have. But who really knows. But I do know that God is omnipotent. Perhaps God saw in that brief moment something in the future that made a difference to the world. Perhaps one of my descendants will work on something that alters the course of humanity. Or maybe one of Ricky’s descendants does something game changing. I have to have that faith, because anything else just seems too random. And given the complexity of life on this little Rock of ours, I just cannot believe in serendipity. I have to believe that God’s purpose for the outcome of that accident wasn’t just chance, even if it remains a mystery to me.

 These are the great mysteries of life.  But one thing that I am certain of, is that God and the universe are truly active in my life and whether I am following the Master Plan or God needs to put Plan B in place to recalculate my trip, I am glad I have God and my guides to navigate my journey and guide me to my highest purpose and good.

Dear Sissy

Dear Sissy,

It has been almost six months and I do miss you dearly.  I think of you often.  I wonder how things are where you are.  How is Ray?  We sure do miss him too.  And Jeanna.  And Patti.  And your family?  I am sure they were so happy to see you.

I wanted to catch you up on what is going on.  I can just picture us sitting in your living room and talking.  You always were a great listener and story teller.

Jaren and I are well.  We found a nice apartment and I am almost certain you guided me to it; so many coincidences.  The best part about our new apartment is I am only 4.8 miles from work.  I know you would be happy to know that.  You always worried about my long drive.

Work is going well.  I really like my new department and coworkers.  You know how nervous I was at first.  I started my new position a couple weeks after you passed.

Jaren’s graduation went well.  I know how proud of him you would have been.  He is taking online college courses and he hopes to be in a dorm soon.  He really wants to experience the college life.  I am glad he is with me a little longer.  With your passing, my new job position, Jaren graduating high school, moving out of the house and into our new apartment, I think it would have been difficult to be without Jaren too.  So thankfully, he is with me a little longer.  But I know he is ready to explore.  And I am just about getting used to the idea of him leaving home.  I can hear you giving me advice in your kind and gentle tone, reassuring me that everything will be alright.  And you are right.

So many changes in such a short time, Sissy, but considering everything, I am doing well.

Noah and his family came down for Jaren’s graduation and they stayed with us at the house.  I told Noah that he was there shortly after he was born for Christmas Eve.  Of course he doesn’t remember but maybe somewhere subconsciously it is in him.  It did feel like we came full circle.  It meant a great deal to have them stay at that house.  Noah’s parents felt right at home too.  The only thing missing was you and Ray.  But somehow, I think you both were there.  Everything in that house reminds me of you two.

The kids all seem to be doing well.  It’s hard because everyone is scattered but we do talk or txt now and then.  I know you would be very happy to know that most everything you had went to the kids or close family and friends.  I know how much you treasured your belongings.  We had fun going through your things and sharing some stories to go along the way.  Of course, you know I have many of those to share.

Sissy, you would be so proud of how your kids handled your estate.  They were so generous to Jaren and me and honored your final wishes and request.  I really got to know Danny more in those last few months then I did over the twenty plus years of knowing him.  I see what made him special to you.

Tell Ray that Jaren did his best to keep the yard looking good and he took good care of your flowers too.  We all worked together to get the house ready for market.  Danny and Judy labored hard getting the house ready for the estate sale.  And ready for the new buyers.  I even got to meet of few of the neighbors.  I guess having a garage sale is a good way to get to know the community.  One lady bought a book shelf and she said her son would come get it later.  When he came, I saw he was wearing a hearing aid.  He is in his early twenties.  I told him I was hearing impaired and we got to talking about it.  I just thought, “Wow, what are the odds.”  They were a nice family.  It made me realize why you loved your home and your neighborhood so much.

Well, today Sis, is your birthday.  And in your honor, Jaren and I are going to meet Karen at BJ’s.  I hadn’t thought about doing this until mid-day today.   I can’t think of better way to honor you and your memory on this special day.  We will be sure to put a glass of tea on the table for you, with extra ice and lemons.

Happy Birthday, Sissy.  We love you and miss you dearly.

The Final Bow

Tonight was the Final Bow performance for my son’s high school choir.  This is the highlight of the year.  It is where the seniors get solo’s and get to show off their seasoned talent.  This is our sports event, our playoffs, our final round.  Harmony is the name of the game here and on our team, everyone can participate.  And just like sports, we have some that are naturally more talented than others, some that have worked really hard to gain access to their talent and others who have the attitude of commitment and continue to rise to the challenge, knowing that they may never be as good as some of their teammates but still they show up, they sing, and they support their team.

Did you know that one of the top fears that people have is getting up and speaking (or singing) in front of people?  Some list put this fear as the number one fear.  But most will have this fear listed in the top five.  That is major.  It takes guts to get up and speak or sing in front of people.  Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and subject to praise or criticism, it could go either way, is a very courageous act to do.  Add the fact that these kids are teenagers, which places another layer of apprehension.

I talk from experience.  I too was a choir student.  I joined my concert choir freshman year and perfected my choir voice for four years.  I was at ease while standing on stage with my comrades as we sang our choir songs; but singing alone gave me great stage fright.  During my senior year I sang a duet with a friend to help ease my fears.  We sang Snow Bird.  Even with her by my side, I still got nervous.  It started off good but by mid song my throat slowly closed up which made it almost impossible to release a solid note.

And like me, I saw tonight those students who reminded me of myself, singing duets to help ease their fears.  Some who were nervous but faced their fear and sang a solo on stage as their fellow choir members cheered them on from the crowd.  Some who are learning to trust themselves and their talent so they held back a little.  Then, there were the others, like my son, who appear confident, the ones who command the stage with a gracefulness, some bold and dazzling like they were born on the stage, some humble and secure with a pureness that flows effortlessly.  And then there are the special needs students who add the special touch to this high school choir.

I’ve seen many special needs kids on stage over the years, some with Down syndrome, some in wheelchairs, and some with physical or learning disabilities-even some with hearing impediments.  I love that our high school is not only diverse in ethnicity and culture but also in abilities.  I especially love how our district and the choir teacher, Ms. Wright embraces all these differences.  And as much as I love watching my son on stage, I never tire of seeing these kids perform.

This year, there was one choir student that stood out among them all.  And the rest of the choir kids didn’t seem to mind sharing the spotlight.  They all love to see him shine.  His name is Zuri.

I remember Zuri from middle school.  He went to a different middle school then my son but once a year the middle school choirs would join with the high school choir kids for a combined concert.  It was a treat to see the high school students performing.  What a difference a few more years makes.  Seeing how the students had matured into their own style and expressing their unique talents gave us parents a sneak peak of what our kids might be doing in their near future.  What parent doesn’t want to see their child performing?  On a stage, on a field, academically, athletically, or creatively, we hope that our child will find his niche and show off his or her unique skill and talent.  I am sure Zuri’s mom felt the same.

I met Zuri’s mom and his younger brother by chance at our local CiCi’s Buffet one evening.  I recognized Zuri from the concert and had this urge to tell her how Zuri stood out to me from that concert.  Not because he is special needs but because he allows his spirit to shine.  His bright smile, his infectious presence and his child-like ways makes one feel as if they are staring into the face of God.  He appears to have no stage freight, nor is he fearful to sing, in fact, he seems to not fear anything.

Tonight I was overcome with emotion as I watched Zuri sing Say Something on stage among his choir classmates, including my son Jaren.  Zuri is front and center.  He claps his hands and has memorized the song.  I know this because I am pretty good at reading lips and I could see his lips were moving to match the words.  I can’t help but think how blessed his family is and how special his mother is.  She looks at him with possibilities and supports his achievements and she has done an amazing job.  She makes parenting look easy.

Zuri smiles and brings this song to life with his hand gestures; I think some of it was sign language.

At the end of the evening, Ms. Wright begins to call each senior’s name.  She skips over Zuri’s name purposefully.  She leaves him for last.  As she calls his name, the choir cheers.  Zuri steps down from the choir stands, walks over to Ms. Wright and they hug.  Then as Zuri walks back, he pauses mid-stage and turns to look out into the audience.  We stand applauding.  Zuri raises both arms, cheering, and beaming from ear to ear.  As he steps back onto the bleachers and returns to his spot, he is overcome with emotions.  His head drops and he begins to cry.  His comrades all gather close to him.

Tears of joy begin to flow.

I can’t help but think how proud his mother must be.

Melancholy Christmas

Last week, our church had a family friendly Christmas service mid-week.  There was a short Christmas play, Jesus There’s an App For That, performed by the kids, which included my sixteen year old son, Jaren.  And, we had a Christmas sing-a-long throughout the service.  When the congregation began to sing Silent Night, tears unexpectedly filled my eyes.  My soul wanted to weep and I strongly held back a cry that my spirit wanted to release.  I was remembering a time from my childhood.  It’s the one time of the year that was almost always good and pure.

Each Christmas Eve we gathered over to my grandparents’ house.  This was a tradition that had been going on for many years, which started with my mother, her siblings and cousins at my great grandparents’ home.  Because they were chicken farmers, they had to get up early in the am to collect the eggs from the hens.  So they gathered with their families, celebrated the spirit of Christmas with good food, delicious, traditional German sweets and schnapps, opening their Christmas gifts on the Eve of Christmas.  Long after they retired from the chicken farming, this very special Christmas Eve tradition continued for the next several generations, with four and five generations all gathering in one very small country home.  As children, we always wondered how Santa made it to our grandparents home so early.  Santa didn’t drop by our home until sometime in the middle of the night.  Our grandmother secretly disclosed that she had a special arrangement with Santa Claus.

One of the most treasured memories of the evening was singing Christmas carols.  The last song was always the same.  Silent Night.  After singing all the holly jolly and jingle bells songs, this one always settled us kids and somehow magically transformed us from “Santa’s gifts” to “Jesus’s birth”.  We lit the German tapers on the tree, turned the lights out and sang Silent Night.  Then we would sit silently as the elders would sing it once more in German.  As we gathered to go home, the children would gaze up to the evening sky and try to get a glimpse of Santa on his sleigh.  Surely we saw him a time or two over the years.  Then we would stop off at the Catholic Church for their midnight service; kneeling, praying and paying tribute by honoring Mary and her precious baby boy, Jesus while giving thanks to God and all His glory.

Of all the times in my youth, this one night is what I miss most about my childhood.  If I could relive one moment or one day, I would surely choose this night just so I could experience the magic and our family tradition and listen to my grandparents sing Silent Night in their native language one more time.

Most people equate this time of the year with goodness, happy, treasured, and cherished moments.  But sometimes the holidays can bring somberness and sorrow as well.  It seems this year, many of my loved ones are experiencing this holiday in a way they have not experienced it before.  And I cannot remember another year where so many of my extended family and friends have experienced such great losses.

Parents have lost sons; siblings have lost brothers, wives have lost husbands, and children have lost parents.

My son’s godfather lost the love of his life, Jose earlier this year.  Jose was someone who loved life and he especially loved Christmas.  But Jose’s health had been failing him over the past several years.  My son’s godfather had cared dearly for his partner of nineteen years as he witnessed his partner’s health decline.  This year, our dear Robert will spend Christmas for the first time without his loving partner, Jose.

For my son’s grandmother, she lost her soul-mate; her husband earlier this year.  For the first time in forty plus years, she will not have her husband by her side Christmas morning.

For my dear friend, Sissy while her husband is still with us, he is suffering with severe Alzheimer’s; she has lost the man that she fell in love with more than thirty years ago.  His loved ones have all become unrecognizable to him.  Seeing him deteriorate every day is a struggle for us all.  This may very well be the last holiday that he will spend in his home among family and friends on Christmas Eve.

For me, this time of the year is filled with mixed emotions.  While I’ve enjoyed being able to see Christmas through Jaren’s childlike eyes through the years, this is also the time of the year when my second son, Noah was born and I said goodbye to my infant boy.  While I have a wonderful relationship with Noah and his family, it seems every year I unconsciously still re-live that moment and loss to some extent.  I feel guilty sometimes because I think about the mothers who will never be able to see their children again or share another Christmas holiday because their children are gone forever.  And I think of the birthmothers who never get see their child, and the ones who wonder if their child is alive and well.

But the most heart wrenching of all was yesterday as I heard my coworker fall to her knees and cry out with disbelief that her husband of many, many years had just died unexpectedly.  One of our very own, my cube neighbor, just got the hardest news only three days before Christmas.  Her cries echoed throughout the third floor among hundreds of workers and there wasn’t anything anyone could do.  With every cry she released, another person felt her pain until just about every eye in our office had tears.  I realized today more than ever before how one does not have to directly experience hurt to feel pain.  Pain can be seen. Pain can be heard.  Her cries lingered on in my mind long after she left the building to be with her loved ones.  Her life changed in one moment.  This year and every year hereafter, she will take this experience with her for the remainder of her years here on earth.

I love Christmas.  I love the lights, the songs, and the jolly atmosphere.  I love giving more than receiving.  And I love the true Christmas story.  But I also know the truth; not everyone experiences the Christmas holiday the same.

So as you jingle through your holiday, and ho, ho, ho through this Christmas, please be kind to those who have experienced a great loss and help those in need find their way back to the spirit of Christmas.  You might not need to say anything.  All you may need to do is look compassionately into their eyes and give them a warm, comforting hug.

May God richly bless each and every one of you and may you have a very Merry Christmas!

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.    Luke 2:14

The Land of OZ

wicked_witch

I’ve been contemplating writing this blog about the story of the Wizard of Oz and how it relates to adoption for over a year now.  I just didn’t know how I could correlate the symbolism in the movie and verbally express the metaphysical aspects of the deeper meaning.  I will admit, I am not the first person to take this movie and create my own unique theoretical version.  I’ll explain more.

I’m sure like all of you; I’ve seen this movie many times over the years.  I’ve matured with Dorothy and her child-like ways and began to see deeper meanings every time I watched it year after year.  And each time Dorothy wakes up, I wonder again, was it all real or was it only a dream.  That’s creative writing and film making at its best.

A few years back, I was introduced to a new Wizard of Oz story by a Unity Minister, Rev Ellen Debenport.  A friend of mine, Tori, who I knew from another Unity church, had told me about the OZ series that Rev. Ellen, the associate minister at the time, was doing at our sister church in Dallas.  It sounded very interesting and I had a thirst for more.

After the first night, I was hooked.  Rev Ellen explained the Wizard of Oz movie and each character in a way I had never contemplated before, which left me with a number of “ah-ha” moments.  Of all the sermons I have heard over the years from the many different ministers, this is by far my favorite.  Here is the link, if anyone would like to hear more about Rev Ellen’s series. OZ: Over the Rainbow

They’re really so many ways to interpret the Wizard of Oz.  While my version is quite different from Rev Ellen’s, who I truly believe is far more talented and skilled in the field of writing and speaking for that matter, I found my own theories with uncanny similarities between this movie and adoption.  Ones that kept creeping into my mind.

So what does the Wizard of Oz have to do with adoption?  Well, we know Dorothy is an adoptee.  That’s the obvious.  But here are some other things you may not have thought about while viewing this epic movie.  Let’s take a journey into OZ…

At the very beginning of the movie, Dorothy seems to be in trouble.  After a brief spat, Dorothy runs away from the people who love her.  She senses their disappointed.  After she cools off a bit, she tries to return home but now a storm (turmoil) has ascended upon their tiny town and Dorothy along with Toto are whisked away and transported into an alternate universe.   When she awakens in the Land of OZ, the munchkins, who are singing with great joy, are very pleased with Dorothy.  Her house has landed on the Wicked Witch of the East who had apparently wreaked havoc on their community.  They feel as though Dorothy has just saved them.

Symbolically, the munchkins could represent children in an orphanage who were used for labor or trafficked for money.

Within a few minutes, we have a good witch, a dead witch and a wicked witch.  One witch is there to help Dorothy and one is there to destroy her.  The Wicked Witch of the West looks wrathfully at Dorothy and asks, “Who killed the Witch of the East?”

If we look at unplanned pregnancies during the time of this movie (the beginning of the Baby Scoop Era) we see the innocence of the young Dorothy as she tries to explain, “It was an accident.”  She did not intend for this to happen.  The Wicked Witch of the West is unsympathetic towards Dorothy and tries to shame her for what has happened.  But interesting enough, not everyone agrees that this incident is a bad or shameful event.

Doesn’t that sound like life in general?  Especially when an unexpected pregnancy occurs?  I can tell you from personal experience, I had both fans and foes when my unplanned pregnancy was made known.

After the accident, Glenda, the Good Witch, quickly places the ruby slippers on Dorothy’s feet.  Dorothy has been given a precious gift.  Metaphorically, the ruby slippers could represent a conceived child.

Now even angrier, the Wicked Witch of the West tries to take the slippers but the shoes zap her.  She is unable to forcefully remove the slippers from Dorothy’s feet.  This is the part of freewill and choice.  Dorothy has to freely give up the shoes.  Coercion is not far behind, as we listen to the Wicked Witch of the West impart fear and doubt into Dorothy’s mind when she tells Dorothy to give her the ruby slippers because she is the only one who truly knows how to use them.

If you listen closely, you can hear how similar that sounds like an adoption agency rep telling a frightened pregnant woman that the agency is better equipped to decide the future of this expectant child or that someone else is better equipped to parent her child then she is.

What’s interesting to me, that I never really noticed before writing this, is how neutral the Good Witch, Glenda is.  She is neither happy nor angry.  She shows little emotion of approval or disapproval of what has occurred.  She is almost God-like.  She acknowledges the power of the ruby slippers and tells Dorothy how special they must be.

Isn’t every child truly special, no matter the circumstance?

When the Wicked Witch of the West tries to threaten Glenda, she quickly responds without fear, “Rubbish, you have no power here.  Be gone before somebody drops a house on you.”  That statement always made me feel good.  She was fearless.

Dorothy must have felt safe standing by her side.  Wouldn’t it be great if we all could tell anyone who tried to bully or threaten us to “be gone, you have no power here.”

However, the mood quickly changes just before the Wicked Witch of the West leaves, as she threatens Dorothy one more time and tells her that she will get Dorothy and her little dog too.  She makes it clear that she will not stop until she has possession of those ruby slippers.

I wonder how Dorothy would have made out if she didn’t have Toto or Glenda when all that occurred.  Would the story have turned out the same?  We’re pretty certain that the munchkins wouldn’t have been much help since they were cowering down the whole time the Wicked Witch of the West was there.  Would Dorothy have been strong enough to fight against the Wicked Witch of the West alone?

Dorothy makes her plea to Glenda that her only wish is to get back home to Kansas.

The story takes a very interesting turn and becomes focused on two primary things; the ruby slippers and getting back home to Kansas.  Everything else is based around those two primary themes.  Dorothy wants to get back home and the Wicked Witch of the West desperately wants the ruby slippers.  The Wicked Witch of the West has to get those slippers before Dorothy leaves OZ and returns to her loved ones because she knows that once Dorothy leaves OZ, she will have no more chances of getting those ruby slippers.

Likewise, an adoption agency’s goal is to get the mother to relinquish before she leaves the hospital because they know that once a mother leaves the hospital with her child, she is less likely to willingly relinquish her parental rights.

Let’s face it.  While most adoption agencies claim their clients are the vulnerable women who come to them with an unplanned pregnancy, their real clients are the paying customers.  Really.  Who are you going to accommodate in your business; the non-paying customer who also gets free services or the paying customer?

Glenda sends Dorothy on a new path alone down the yellow brick road,  Although Glenda remains mostly out of site, she appears to watch over Dorothy while at the same time allowing Dorothy to make her own choices.  She knows it will be Dorothy’s determination and faith that leads her back home to Kansas.  But before Dorothy leaves, Glenda warns Dorothy to never let those ruby slippers off her feet or she “will be at the mercy” of the Wicked Witch of the West.  That’s a powerful statement.  Why would Dorothy be at the mercy of the Wicked Witch of the West when the only thing the Wicked Witch wanted was the ruby slippers in the first place?

That sounds like a warning to a birth mother to me.  Ask a birth mother what happens after she relinquishes her parental rights.  She is at the mercy of the adoption agency, sometimes the adoptive parents and of her choice.  Most often she is at the mercy of her secrets, her emotions, and a lifetime of stages in grief and possibly regret.

At this point, young Dorothy with her ruby slippers is all alone with the exception of her dog, Toto.  She is without her family’s support.  And she is lost.  But…the story has only just begun.

Yellow-brick-road-copy

Closure, a documentary about adoption

Tickets are selling but we still have a ways to go. We need to sell 65 tickets for the film to be shown at the Angelika Film Center, We have nine days left. Please support this independent movie and film maker. Buy your tickets online (only $11.00 per ticket) and come be a part of this special screening right here in Dallas, Texas. This film will speak to your heart and soul whether you have been touched or effected by adoption or not. This is a film about the human spirit and how we are all connected.

 

Click on this link to reserve your tickets now!  Closure

Mother’s Day Prayer

Written by my son…

 

PRAYER:  Father-Mother God, this Sunday may we bless all the mothers in this world; for the things they give up and give us, for everything they do to better their children no matter the circumstance.  Let mothers feel the joy that they bring to the world, and to others.  Show them the endless love that everyone feels for them and wrap them in warmth and bliss.  Let us realize there is good in every circumstance, and positivity in every cause.  It’s not the end if we don’t feel true inner happiness.  Nothing in our life happens without reason and it’s apart of divine order.  Guide us and let us be whole.  Amen