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Will to Move

17 May

gods will

That morning I was driving to my 12-Step meeting. I used to tune in to “the Jesus Christ show” on the radio during the trip on Sunday mornings. Did you ever listen to it? The moderator is “Jesus.” He talks in the first person and when people call they’re talking to Jesus. Any Hoots, I had been thinking I could call and ask about my decision to move from San Diego to Sacramento, and God’s will, how do we know when it’s God’s will or our will? Then I thought, I wouldn’t have time to call–they put people on hold on these shows for 20 minutes or more, if someone can even get through. Then a caller came on the air, and it was a man who was deciding to move from Oregon to Southern California. He asked EXACTLY the questions I would’ve asked. Jesus is VERY good at his job. He often quotes or refers to Scripture. He said there are some things we know that God is against, for instance, the Ten Commandments tell us not to murder. So if we’re mowing the lawn, are we murdering? If we’re grocery shopping, are we murdering? No, then these acts don’t go against God’s will. Is moving to California or staying in Oregon against any of the commandments? No, okay then, we have choice. We can choose to go or choose to stay. Then we look at all the options and weigh how our decisions will affect the people involved. Where is our resistance? What or who is pushing back? Look at these, and examine them against our choices.

THEN, I went into my meeting and gave my friend her 24 year token at the beginning of the gathering. A few people shared about their personal situations; one man had to give up his home and all his possessions because everything was full of mold. Another woman recently moved and was still unpacking. She described the process that I was going through exactly. Compared it to a Fourth Step, like I did. (The Fourth Step tells us to make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.) Inventorying all our possessions, deciding what to keep and what to discard.

I didn’t announce then that I had made my decision about moving. I didn’t want to put that into my share when I gave my friend her token, because I didn’t want to steal any of her thunder. Then I didn’t get called on to share–I knew I wouldn’t because of the token. They don’t need me sharing twice in the meeting, it’s certainly not The Lisa Show. So I volunteered to lead the meeting the following week where I made my big announcement. God is in charge–and God lets me know that, sometimes subtly, but sometimes He has to hit me on the head!



24 Jan


Others’ lives are parables.

–Oswald Chambers


I lived in a mobile home park in Spring Valley, near San Diego. After my house was sold, the divorce settled and the lawyers paid off, I wanted a place to call my own and the large manufactured home fit my reduced budget. My older sister worried about the stigma: “You’re going to raise your daughters in a trailer park?” At the time I believed semi-home ownership to be a step up from apartment living.
We lived at the top of the park, on the perimeter road, so I only had neighbors on two sides. The backyard of my little lot nestled against a rocky hillside which extended to a larger wild area populated by pepper trees, native shrubs and grasses; home to skunks, possums, rodents and more. Over the years we lived there I added a small flock of chickens. An enterprising coyote occasionally busted through the fences I built to reinforce his wildlife diet with some domestic chicken dinners.
On my west side lived a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses who were wonderful neighbors: no loud parties, no drunken brawls, no late night noise, and the cops were never called. To the east lived a sickly older widowed woman who lived alone with her surgeries and digestive problems to keep her company. She wore hearing aids and sometimes played hymns loud enough for the squirrels to notice. Fortunately, I enjoyed the music.
When I moved there with my daughters, we met Grace, who had lived across the road since the park opened in 1960, in an old single-wide aluminum-sided trailer. From my nomadic point of view, Grace had resided there my entire lifetime while my former address list was longer than my credit history.
Grace was 86 when we moved there. We met outside and took an instant liking to each other. She always had a ready smile and it became our custom to greet each other with a warm hug. An avid wearer of hats, Grace had been widowed from her third husband more than a decade by then. She never bore any children of her own but had a stepdaughter who lived in the backcountry.
During one of our first encounters, Grace proudly showed me the tattoo she had recently acquired.
“Do you want to see my tattoo?” She giggled. She pulled aside the neckline of her shirt to reveal a small palm oasis inked on her chest. She relayed the story that her nieces from Iowa came to town and declared they were all going to get tattooed. I thought of my 20-something niece who is covered with tats, and my brain suddenly realized the flaw in my thinking.
“Wait a minute, how old are your nieces?”
“Sixty-five and 68.”
I could just picture the scene: three white-haired old biddies strolling into the tattoo parlor and choosing their artwork.
I loved Grace. At 86, she was lively and busy. She played bingo, she went bowling and she had a small social circle of former co-workers and neighbors with whom she met for meals out on a regular basis. Her memory was much sharper than mine; she remembered my friends’ names and situations even if she only met them once.
By the time Grace turned 91, she started having symptoms of kidney cancer. I’ll spare the gory details here but it took Kaiser months to identify the symptoms as serious enough to warrant further investigation, a lapse that I believed culminated in Grace’s surgical loss of one kidney and the migration of the cancer into her bones. After that, Kaiser in its wisdom sentenced Grace to less than a year to live.
Woven into Grace’s end-of-life medical history is the story of Harold. He was a member of her social circle, a recent widower who lived alone in a large home in nearby Lemon Grove. A former engineer, he was meticulous in his mannerisms and lifestyle. They began seeing each other and soon enough became intimate. Like I said, Grace was 91 then and Harold was in his early eighties, so we called Grace the neighborhood cougar, much to her delight.
After a whirlwind courtship during which time Grace was rarely seen there in the park, she decided to move in with Harold. After all, he had a large empty home with a big bed and Grace only had a twin bed in her mobile home. Over the course of a few weeks, with her stepdaughter’s help she emptied out her trailer and took up residence with “The Man Who Stole Grace from Us,” as we came to call him. Many of her possessions and some of her furniture have been assimilated in to my home, so I see Grace everywhere. As a bullfight aficionado, she instilled a love for the sport in my 12-year-old daughter; now there are toreador posters and other memorabilia around my house.
Grace sold her home to a single young man, another Jehovah’s Witness, and at times I could see through his window that he was entertaining a gathering of similarly-dressed clean-cut young men, all staring intently at a wide screen. That seemed to be as wild as it got.
I visited Grace at Harold’s and learned that she fell and bruised her tailbone. She was unhappy living there at Harold’s. In the mobile home park Grace used to sit on her front porch and chat with the people who walked by. A great many residents there walked their dogs and the perimeter road was also used for walking or jogging by fitness-minded inhabitants. Grace learned everyone’s name; even the kids on skateboards and the little ones from the child factory at the end of our road. She also knew the dog’s names.
But Harold lived at the end of a cul-de-sac; he didn’t have a front porch. It was lonely there, and Harold was set in his ways. He didn’t cook meals at home and had a weekly schedule of restaurants like IHOP and Denny’s where he took advantage of senior specials. He was a tightwad and even though he was sleeping with Grace, he was demanding that she pay rent, which she was happy to do, but also for half the food, which she disagreed with. She reasoned that since he ate more than she did, why not each pay for their own? When she couldn’t go out because of her injured tailbone, Harold would spend his days at the casino without her and remain there for 12 hours at a stretch, leaving Grace home alone in a house with no food.
One day I was out front and I saw Grace driving past. I hollered out and she parked and came in for a visit. She was crying. I hugged her and brewed her some tea and learned the story: Harold was mistreating her verbally and neglecting her, while becoming more demanding in bed. She had just come from a doctor’s appointment to which Harold failed to accompany her. The doctor advised her to move out and gave her a list of resources for the elderly. I invited her to remain in my home as long as she wished. After a few days her stepdaughter came and they moved Grace out of Harold’s. They said he asked why she wanted to leave.
Grace spent some months at her stepdaughter’s, but her health deteriorated to where she required more care. She found a lovely assisted living home near Sycuan. I visited with her weekly. I was honored to be her friend. I asked her if I could write her obituary and she obliged with a brief biography. To the question, “What advice do you have for younger people?” she responded, “Save your money and never give up your house for a man.”
Even at the assisted living home, Grace knew everyone and their story. She quickly learned the names of any relatives or friends who came to visit. During our visits, we studied the other residents. Mary spent her days strapped to a wheelchair. The aides spoon-fed her meals, most of which ended up on her shirt or the tray in front of her. Mary did not communicate nor make eye contact. It was as if Mary had left her body which forgot she was gone.
Susan sat on the sofa, snoring in front of a loud television show. If someone turned down the volume, Susan would awaken and complain that she was watching that, dammit, turn it back up!
William wandered around the building, asking if anyone has seen his cat. Grace told me that William’s cat died twenty years ago. Peter lay in his bed all day, the aides alternatively feeding him and changing his diapers.
In this environment, I watched Grace withdraw. Without saying so, I knew she did not want to live like the others. She told me she signed an advance directive and Do Not Resuscitate orders. She took to her bed, and refused to eat or drink. I came to visit more often, every other day then. Grace shrunk before my eyes. I wondered if they had snuck Grace out and placed a smaller, frailer resident in her bed. Most of the time, Grace slept. The aides told me since she wasn’t eating or drinking, death would come soon. It took two weeks. One afternoon, Grace opened her eyes, looked at me and said, “You’re so good to me.” I knew she didn’t want to die alone, and I wanted her to know how much I loved her.
The morning of June 21st that year was a sweet sunny one, the air unusually crisp. I woke up to the music of birds chirping, and my very first thought was What a lovely day to die. The call came minutes later, the aides telling me that even though I wasn’t related, they thought I might come visit and they wanted to save me the trip.

Need Something Lost? I’ve found your answer.

11 Nov


Ever since my daughter Maria was little, she has had the perfect knack for losing things. Keys, parts, phones, money, hearing aids, the other shoe, clothes, documents, you name it, Maria has lost them. And sometimes never to be found.

One year, in autumn, she lost my keys. We searched high and low, tore the house apart. Never found them. In December, I was removing the pumpkin from the porch, getting ready to replace it with Christmas decorations, guess what we found behind the little orange sphere? My keys. What were they doing THERE??? One of life’s mysteries, I guess.
Yesterday she was in the kitchen, looking for the honey.

“It’s over there, behind the burners on the stove, next to the olive oil,” I told her. She retrieved the jar and slathered some honey on her cornbread.
Last night I wanted the honey for my tea. I looked behind the burners on the stove, the kitchen table, the counters. Not there. I searched the cabinet where the spices are kept. No honey. I looked in the pantry. Nope. The fridge? Could she have? Honey doesn’t go in the fridge, I’ve told her over and over, because it crystallizes and hardens…nah, not there either, good.

I checked where the pots and pans go, the plates and cups, even checked the dishwasher. You never know. I looked in the living room. Not a trace. Her bedroom? Fear gripped me as I thought of venturing into her room. Cautiously, I opened the door (lest any of the debris leak out), poked my head in, and a quick visual search from the doorway revealed no honey jar there either. Whew. I exhaled deeply and shut the door. The bathroom? Could she have???? I won’t tell you what I did find there, but thankfully honey was not on that gross list.
I decided then that God only wanted me to put lemon in my tea last night, no honey, dear. This lesson has been learned over the years, that my attachment to things need not be more important than my relationship with my daughter. When she was very young (and still sometimes today), I would freak out. “Where did she put that? How could she have lost it? What happened? What the hell is going on?”

There were times when I yelled and screamed and blamed Maria for her carelessness and forgetfulness. Folly of course, because she probably inherited these traits from me. The stress I caused was unbearable sometimes. Over the years I learned that it did no good to yell at Maria, on the contrary, it was counterproductive in the extreme. The anxiety of the loss of something would transfer to her developing psyche and the damage was evident. The forgetfulness increased. The losses mounted. Unhappiness and chaos reigned. Fortunately I sought counsel from people I trust. I realized that things can be replaced, but my children’s well-being could be irreparably damaged by a mother on the warpath. I am learning to let go of my attachment to things, and instead value the quality of how I nurture my children. I aim for progress, not perfection in this arena. But over the years, we’ve gotten better both at being organized and at letting go.

This morning Maria rifled through the kitchen looking for something to eat, and again asked,  “Mom, where is the honey?”

I reminded her that she was the last one to use our favorite sweetener, I had no idea where she could’ve stashed it, and my search had proven fruitless.
We were both in the kitchen laughing hysterically then. She’ll finish high school next year, and we’ve been examining career options. Hey, Maria could work for the Mafia, no, nothing illegal. What about the CIA? If they need something “Lost,” just hand it over to Maria, the world’s official “Hider.” She’ll hide it so well that even she can’t find it. They can torture her, won’t matter, because she CANNOT remember, it’s like it never happened. “Honey? What honey? We had honey? I like honey!” Just keep swimming, Maria.

Maria came into the kitchen as I was writing. She sauntered over to the refrigerator for water. And guess what? She found the honey, hiding behind her sister’s leftovers. Another day here.

Dream Journey

10 Oct


I was on a big ship with others and I was sent out alone to fulfill a mission.
I walked over to where I thought I was supposed to start but there was water.
I returned and asked, “Am I supposed to get wet?
Go through the water?”
And They answered, “No, silly, you take the little inflatable boat.”
So They helped me inflate the small boat, steadied it while I embarked,
and I was on my way.
I was on land next, still in the boat.
But I wasn’t supposed to travel in a boat on land and I got beached.
Then I was driving a little car, with my young adult daughters riding along.
But I could no longer remember my mission.
No matter, I was determined to keep going
without asking anyone for help or direction.
The road was pretty clear: It curved to the right, banked by a high berm
composed of a tall hill of mounded dirt.
I saw the sky and the ground were the hues of twilight,
yellow and purple.

There were lights on in the houses.
As I rounded the curve, I noticed a woman in a police uniform
attempting to direct me,
but I couldn’t hear her over the noise of the car.
I was pointing out to my daughters:
“Those houses over there—one of them is where the shooting was.”
It was a recent shooting I had read about, a 49-year-old man who lived with his parents.
The cops were called during a domestic dispute
the police shot and killed the man when he wouldn’t put down his weapon.
I figured the policewoman was still guarding the crime scene,
and I kinda/sorta knew where I was going,
so I’d be fine not heeding her.
But she threw her arms up in the air as if to say,
“I tried to help you.”
The next thing I knew,
I had driven the car into a flooded pathway.
We were partially submerged.
It was easy enough to exit the vehicle and
scramble back up onto the drier land we had just driven over,
but I was at a loss
what to do or where to go.
My young adult children were expressing their concerns.
I knew I could contact the Ones
who sent me out in the first place,
but I was hesitant to do so.
Embarrassed that I had forgotten my original mission,
unsure that the lines of communication were still open,
somewhat under the delusion that I had to go it alone,
I still didn’t ask for help.
I looked longingly in the direction where
I had seen the policewoman,
she was now nowhere to be found.
I wanted to keep moving forward
but there was no longer a clear path,
and going back seemed out of the question.
I woke up as I was realizing
how foolishly stubborn I was being.

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