Blowing in the Wind

Windsurfing and kitesurfing on a fine summer d...

Windsurfing and kitesurfing on a fine summer day on the Columbia River at Hood River, Oregon. The Hood River bridge and Washington state across from the city are visible in the background. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He was out of my life but not yet out of my brain.  What would my ex-husband do if he knew what I was thinking?  What would he think if he knew what I was doing?  It would be months before I could kick him out of my head completely.  And then there was the rage.  How was I going to get rid of the rage?

In one month’s time, I had lost almost everything.  I had lost him, and although this was my own doing and a good thing in the long run, feelings of loss, regret, and grief still seemed to reside too close to the surface of my skin. And then, in a series of events that almost seemed orchestrated, the owner of the house I was living in decided he wanted the house back for his daughter and son-in-law.   We had to move out right away; the block on my car cracked beyond repair; and the temporary job I held at the community college suddenly ended too.  Stuff hit the fan, so to speak.

I began to attend a tiny church nearby, and I risked telling the whole sordid story to a new pastor.  He and his little flock took my children and me in and helped us to begin to heal. But I knew I had changed, and all you had to do was look at my face, see the tightness around my mouth, the flinty coldness in my eyes, and you knew it too.  But I pushed up my sleeves and figured out what to do next.

One morning I sat with the newspaper open in front of me.  We were staying with my grown son for the time being.  My two children were hanging over the back of the chair.  We were scanning the listings for an apartment of our own. I didn’t have much money, but I wanted to give them the hope and promise of a new life together.  We wrote down an address of an apartment complex not too far away and went to look at it.

The complex itself was filled with tall pine and fir trees.  Dappled shade and sunny patios with potted plants were separated with soft green lawns and beautiful landscaping.  There was a pool, a hot tub, and a billiard room. My young son and teenage daughter became excited as soon they heard kids of all ages splashing around on colorful inflatables in the large blue swimming pool.  I saw the yearning on their faces and I knew I had to make this happen as soon as possible. It felt like a peaceful and fun place to begin life again. The manager told us it could be several months before something opened up and she would put me on a waiting list.  Perfect.  I would have time to try to land a job and save for the first and last month’s rent and security deposit required to move in.

Next we went to a local chain store where my daughter and I picked out inexpensive matching floral bedspreads for the twin beds in a bedroom we would share, and a new spread for my youngest son.  We took them over to the storage unit.  I wanted my children to get a sense that this was real…we were really starting over, just the three of us.

Next, it was time for me to look for a job.  I picked up applications, took them back to the house, filled them out, and then dropped them back off at local companies the next day.  There were only two major employers in the area, and I seriously wished I had not let my ex-husband talk me into quitting my job at the courthouse.  One day I got an interview with a one of the companies, DenMat Corporation.  I arrived at the appointment, nerves jangling like the gold tone bangle bracelets I wore on my wrist.

Two people conducted the interview.  Both would be my direct supervisors.  If I got the job, I would be working as a secretary, and the executive secretary would be supervising me in that capacity.  I would also be working for the sales manager.  He asked me if I knew anything about the company or what they manufactured.  I admitted I didn’t know a thing.  They both laughed, and I felt my face redden. The company manufactured Rembrandt Whitening Toothpaste.  “Blew that one,” I thought.

Two days later I got the phone call.  I had gotten the job!  It paid little more than if I had applied for welfare, but I didn’t care.  We were on our way to independence.

I had no idea how that job would change my life.  I excelled at my duties and was soon plucked out of secretary row and given the job as the assistant to the Marketing Director.  She was glamorous, reminding me of Vivien Leigh in Gone With the Wind.  She had jet-black hair pulled back in a ponytail and fabulous clothes.  She had directed the marketing departments for Merle Norman and Max Factor.  She gave her staff extravagant birthday gifts, often took us all out to lunch as a reward for our hard work, and invited us over to her house for dinner.  She cared about growing and challenging us to move forward in our careers, and soon she elevated me to the position of Product Manager.  It came with a nice raise and made me feel as if I had a “real” career.

One day I got a call from the manager of the apartment building.  My name had come up, and I needed the first and last month’s rent plus the deposit by the following Friday.  If I didn’t have it, she would have to move my name down and give the apartment away to the next person on the list.  I had been saving like mad, but was short $100.  With no parents, grandparents, or friends with extra cash, I had no chance of getting a loan so I figured God was going to have to provide the money.  So I asked Him.

On Wednesday, I looked up from my desk when I heard my name over the loudspeaker asking me to come to the reception area.  A friend of mine was standing there with a big grin on her face.  I hadn’t seen her for several months, so I was a little confused, but happy to see her.  She asked me if I would come outside.

“Linda, I was meeting with some ladies for prayer this morning, and I felt impressed that we needed to do something for you.”  She handed me a card.   I opened it and there was a check for $100!  I immediately called the manager of the apartment complex and told her I was coming by after work to pay for our place.

In the meantime, I had become good friends with the woman who interviewed me.  She had a picture of herself windsurfing on her desk.  Windsurfing was something I had seen at a nearby lake and fantasized about learning how to do.  I asked her to teach me.  She was reticent, as most women who try it give up.  But she agreed if I agreed to commit.

Me at windsurfing Morro Bay, California.

Me, windsurfing at Morro Bay, California.

For the next three months we were at the lake almost every weekend.   I became passionate about the sport and went every chance I got.  My son took lessons too.  As soon as I could afford it, I bought my own equipment, a truck with a camper shell and racks on the top for my board and mast, and a wetsuit.  It was the most fun I had ever had in my life.   I felt powerful, and my muscles began to get toned and strong. The wind in my face and hair as I scooted across a lake seemed to blow off all that rage I never thought I’d get rid of…at least most of it.

When the wind wasn’t up, I took my mountain bike on as many new trails on the Central Coast of California as I could find.  I had a guidebook, and I checked them off as I went.  When I wasn’t there I was at the gym, lifting free-weights.  When I wasn’t at the gym, or the lake, or on the trails riding my bike, I was body-surfing at Pismo Beach.  In fact, there were days when I did at least three of these activities before nightfall.  A neighbor, seeing me drop off my board and grab my bike, stopped my daughter and asked, “Doesn’t your mother ever stop?”  I was forty-years-old and this was the first time in my life I had been active and athletic.  And as my body changed, my mind changed as well. I felt free of anxiety and depression for the first time in a over a decade.

My children were also very happy.  My daughter entered college and moved out on her own.  My son and I moved closer to the beach and nearby lake.  When he wasn’t spending time with grandparents, we made fun plans for every weekend.  And we had our “date” for breakfast out every Friday morning before I dropped him off at school.  We had healed.  And if things would have remained just exactly like that for the rest of my life, I would have been very content indeed.  But of course, God had more surprises in store.  Stay tuned…

 

Learning to Fly on My Own

God gives every bird its food, but he does not throw it into the nest.

-Josiah Gilbert Holland

Learning to Fly

Learning to Fly

My mother had been dead for four months. I had become the matriarch of our family in one fell swoop.  At only 34-years-old, I felt alone on the planet. I had finally gotten my independence from an alcoholic, unfaithful husband, but my dependent nature clung to me like soot after a fire.  I wanted to wash it off, but a residue remained, leaving me longing for someone…anyone.

As I worked the microfiche machine at my desk at work, searching through other people’s family stories, I yearned to be part of a family and have a story of my own. I issued birth, death, and marriage certificates for other families daily. Performing marriage ceremonies seemed to feed my loneliness even more, leaving me empty and vulnerable.

I was working at the vital records counter in the county clerk’s office, listening to the good-natured chirping between my co-workers. Suddenly, everyone stopped talking.  The only sound in the large room came from the overhead fans and the rustling of paperwork on the desks near the open door.  Curious, I glanced up from the microfiche machine.

At first I thought everyone else recognized a movie star I had not seen before. Now I noticed all eyes were on me.  I fumbled around with the switches on the machine and walked up to the counter.

“May I help you?”  I looked up.  Our eyes met.  “Hey, I think I know you,” I smiled.

“I doubt it,” he said, dripping with sarcasm.  I took a step back.

“Well, I mean I think I’ve seen you.  Do you go to church?”  Wow…what was I doing?

He glanced up quickly, seeming to see me for the first time.

“Yeah,” he said, sounding a little friendlier.

I helped him with his paperwork, trying not to stare at him.  After he left, several of the women standing close by tittered and made little comments about his gorgeous good looks.  I was thinking about how I could sit nearby him at the next church service and try to catch his eye again.

Within two weeks he had volunteered to head a committee of men who would help me get my newly rented home ready for move-in.  It needed paint, some electrical work, and the carpet ripped out, and he was handy.   He came over every day, bending, stooping, and reaching.   I admired all 6’4” of him in all of his various positions.  He talked about the Lord constantly, incessantly in fact.  I tried to admire this, but it felt off and more than a little odd.

One day, coming back from running errands together, I asked him for a hug (sneaky strategy, huh?).  He sat there for several moments, not moving, not speaking, his eyes closed.  My stomach lurched.  I wondered if I had just made some terrible faux pas.  He reached over and hugged me so hard it hurt and whispered,  “The Lord told me I could.”

At first we found ways to spend time together without really calling it a date.  It was important to him that we went about this the “right” way for the Lord.   Nearing Christmas, we made a plan together (I thought) to take my children to get a Christmas tree.  My kids and I got up early.  They were clearly excited as we scrambled around the house, getting ready for the big day. Then we waited.  And we waited.  He didn’t show up.  He didn’t call.  Finally, I called him.

“Hi, what are you up to?” I feigned cheer.  “I thought we were going to take the kids to get a Christmas tree together?”

“You sound exactly like my ex-wife!”

My breath caught in my throat and my eyes widened as I tried to process what I just heard.  A sound came out of my mouth, but instead of forming a word, I slammed the receiver down on the cradle.  I began to hyperventilate.  It felt like something was being ripped away from me. The kids and I remained home for the day while I wrestled with my anxiety.  We were disappointed, and I felt totally confused…like I had just met Mr. Hyde.

Of course his next phone call smoothed away all my fears.  He was just tired, busy, something had happened at work that had upset him, he was sorry, and he’d make it right.

One night we double-dated with another couple.  He had planned the evening around dinner at a sushi bar and then it would be off to the Sycamore Mineral Springs Spa in Avila Beach, California, one of the most romantic places for a date.  Each oak barrel tub is separated enough from the others for maximum privacy.  Little lights line the dark paths winding up the hill through a sycamore grove.  I was looking forward to showing off my new bathing suit I bought, just for this occasion.  When I saw the truck drive up, I ran out to greet my friends. I opened the passenger door, jumped in, shut the door, and turned to smile.

“Don’t slam my door like that!” he glared.  Everyone went silent.  “Sorry, I didn’t mean to.”  My face reddened, but I struggled to normalize the request in my mind.  Of course he needs to make sure I don’t slam his door.  It’s a new truck.  I worked hard in the next minutes to pretend I didn’t notice his anger in front of our friends.  It was clear they were as surprised as I was.

We ended up having a wonderful time and I let myself relax.  But my mind began to compartmentalize my experiences.  One part held fear, caution, and lots of confusion.  The other part held the picture of the six foot, four inch, romantic man with the movie star looks.  He had a good job; he was handy around the house and good with money.  He was a gourmet cook and loved to grow orchids.  And he was a super spiritual version of what was on my top 10 list.  He was everything a good Christian woman should want, right?

It seemed like every woman in the church, single and married alike was riveted on my relationship with this mysterious man.  I was suddenly catapulted into a type of churchy celebrity status.  For the first time in my life I had something that others wanted too.  Other single women approached him, and asked him out for coffee or for lunch.  He turned them down and I felt pride that he had chosen me over so many others from our large church.  Only I never felt I had a firm grip.  My stomach began to do a play by play of events and I ended up in the doctor’s office almost weekly after being diagnosed with colitis. My feelings were on hyper alert.  Is this what love is?

The next time we argued, he told me he was just tired, busy, something had happened at work that had upset him, he was sorry, and he’d make it right. And besides, I had pushed a button of his, and if I just had not done that, this would never have happened.  I would have to try not to do that.

He planned beautiful, romantic dates at the best restaurants, including roses and wine, and ending with long walks on the beach.  He drove me up to the mountaintop late one afternoon.  He brought a quilt, champagne and flutes, and smoked salmon and cheddar cheese, and spread them on the ground.  He helped me out of the truck and gently wrapped a blanket around my shoulders.  We sat and ate and talked until dark.   He tipped my chin up towards the sky and whispered, “Just wait.”  Soon, a trail of light blazed across the sky.  Then another.  Then another.  Then he kissed me.  I flung my doubts out to the sky and let them disappear into the black ink.

Our relationship became a series of conflicts, retreats and pursuits, the pattern repeating itself over and over.  I believed the only way to bring a stop to my insecurity was to marry him.  I was sure my own fears about his love were what were causing problems.  I believed it would be good for my son to have a strong male figure in his life.

The night we got back from our honeymoon was a turning point.  Now that we were married, Mr. Hyde quit playing hide and seek and decided to stay for dinner.  I felt helpless for several minutes while I listened to him bully my children about helping.  They weren’t doing anything right.  The silverware didn’t go the way they put it on the table.  They weren’t fast enough and dinner was getting cold!  He looked at them as if they were stupid.  They became quiet, and nervous, giving each other sideward glances.

“I sure hope you are listening to the Holy Spirit right now.” I said.  He glanced down and seemed embarrassed.  My chest swelled a little.  I had stepped in and taken care of it, just like that!  I am a good mother.

Soon, none of us were doing anything right.  Nothing happened without his approval.  If it wasn’t originally his idea, the answer was “no.”  If he said yes, he would change his mind at the last minute.  My friends could come over when he said they could.  They came less and less.  My sister could visit, but she walked on eggshells and spent time crying in the guest room.  He always answered the phone on first ring, screening all our calls.  He wouldn’t let my teenage daughter lock the bathroom door.

Then we were battling over how to cook ground beef or when to start a load of laundry.  He was disgusted when I didn’t know to put two slices of cheese on a grilled cheese sandwich, so he threw it in the trash.  I began to filter everything I did or said around what the consequences would look like.  What would he say if he knew I thought this, said that, or did this other thing? What would he do?  Mostly I knew what he would do, and it wasn’t pleasant.

At times I escaped by hiding in the tree house in our backyard.  I took long walks or I got in my car and drove to a nearby gas station and cried to a friend from the payphone.  My anxiety attacks and depression worsened and I needed medication.  My children were miserable.  I started calling some friends to see if we could come stay with them for a while and no one could help.  I began stashing change from the market in a shoe along with a spare set of keys.  I ordered a credit card in my own name.  I knew I had made another stupid, stupid mistake, and I felt ashamed.  I stopped looking into my friend’s eyes when I went to church.  I lied to everyone.  I’m fine, how are you?

My church family and pastor seemed to turn their eyes away, as if they couldn’t stand to watch the train wreck happen.  No one called; no one came to help. The church counselors knew I had bruises, but by this time his charisma and charm had landed him a position on staff at the church. They believed him when he told them I was out of control.  Many times I drove onto the freeway and just screamed out to God in desperation.  But I didn’t believe I deserved his help.  After all, I had done this…with eyes wide open.

Finally, I was ready.  I called my husband and asked to meet in the middle of a parking lot at the shopping center.  With others around for protection, I told him I was divorcing him. It had been two and a half years of pure hell.  I was a shell of who I had been starting to become.  Thin, hollow-eyed, defeated.  I was filled with guilt over what I had allowed to happen to my children and myself.  I believed God was so disappointed in me that he had turned his back altogether.  In one month’s time I had managed to lose a husband, my home, my car, and my job. It was my third divorce.  I was wrecked.

So I did what I did best.  I ran.  There’s a story in the Bible about a concubine of Abraham’s.  Her name was Hagar.  She gave birth to Ishmael, before Abraham’s wife had her own son, Isaac.  In Sarah’s jealously, she mistreated Hagar to the point of desperation.  Hagar ran out to the desert with her son, alone, and seeming without friend or protector.

I thought of her as I ran out to my own desert, away from church, friends, family.  I ran empty-handed. And then, just like God met Hagar in the desert, God met me there too.  He picked me up and carried me like a wounded little bird in a cardboard box.  He was gentle, tender, giving me little sips of water.  He slowly restored my spirit and eventually, he restored everything I had lost.

And then he began to teach me how to fly on my own.

 

 

 

 

 

Dearly beloved…

This is a memoir blog about my journey to becoming who I might have been.  It is meant to be read from first post to present.  To find the first post, search for “It Was A Dark and Stormy Night,” and read forward through date order.  If you enjoy this, please sign up to receive next installments automatically via email.  You can unsubscribe at any time.

A wedding of 300 Indian guests ~ one of the over 400 weddings I would perform.

A wedding of 300 Indian guests ~ one of the over 400 weddings I would perform.

My mother was sitting on her teal-green couch staring at something beyond the four walls of the tiny bachelor apartment where she lived.  In her hands was a doll I had painted several years earlier.  She gently stroked its face. A low moaning came from somewhere in the back of her throat.  My sister and I gently guided her to the car and rushed her to the hospital.  Later, her oncologist told us to say our goodbyes but she didn’t seem to hear them.

That night, I tossed and turned on my sister’s couch, a feeling of impending doom making me feel closed in.   Eventually I entered a fitful sleep, only to be awakened by the jangling of the phone.  I jumped up, tripping over my suitcase to grab the receiver.  I was sure it was news of my mother’s passing.  Instead, a nurse came on the line and said, “Your mother is wanting to know where her girls are! When can you get here?”

My sister and I threw on our clothes, grabbed our coats and purses and rushed to the hospital without even a backward glance at the coffee maker.  We found her sitting up in bed, alert.  We had our time of goodbyes and a few more precious weeks with her.  I left for home to finish my secretarial classes, knowing I would not be back until she was gone.

A few days after arriving back home, I saw an ad in the local paper for a job at the beautiful, Spanish tile-roofed, Santa Barbara County Superior Courthouse. I loved walking the complex, and looking at the cool, creamy adobe style buildings with bougainvillea trailing the low walls and roofs. The opening was for the job of Deputy Clerk. I was sure I was not qualified, but went to the office and picked up an application.  Later on, sitting at my dining room table, I began to fill out the four-page application.  I got about halfway through and had a thought. This isn’t what they are looking for.  Go get another blank one and start over. So, I asked a friend to go incognito and grab me another application.  I filled it out again and sent it off with a prayer and not much hope.

One night, my children were all tucked in bed, and the house was finally quiet.  I was sitting on the couch reading a magazine when the phone startled me.  My sister was sitting at my mother’s bedside, watching her while she got ready to take her last breath.  We prayed, and cried.  I told her things to tell my mom and she repeated them in her ear.  “Her breathing just stopped but I can still see her heartbeat in her neck,” my sister described.  Within minutes the gentle ending heartbeats stopped as well.  I told her to look up towards the ceiling and talk to her after reading so many stories of people looking down at the scene of their own deaths.  It was quiet and peaceful.  After the call, I lay in bed and cried, relieved that her pain had ended but knowing we were all too young to lose her.  She was only 56-years-old and I felt she never got a chance to have a happier life after facing the suicides of her son and husband.

Eight years earlier, when my father had committed suicide, my mother’s repressed anger at all she had endured in the marriage came bubbling to the surface.  She was quiet about it, taking it out in subtle ways.  One day a couple of weeks after his death, my mother got a call from the mortuary.  They had his ashes and wanted her to pick them up.  She ignored the request.   Then she received a letter stating that they would give them to the Neptune Society for burial at sea if she didn’t come get them.  She ignored that request as well.

After she died, my sister and I planned her memorial service and drove around Los Angeles looking for a suitable cemetery to inter her ashes.  We found a sweet little cemetery in Redondo Beach with lots of trees and shade.  My sister made the call to talk to the staff at the cemetery offices. “Do you know a Bruce Amthor?” the manager asked.  “Yes, that’s the name of my deceased father,” my sister answered.  “Well, we were asked to store his ashes in our cemetery years ago by a mortuary in El Segundo and they are here.  If you want to pay the storage fee, we can inter the ashes next to your mother’s.”  Wow…wow…wow…wow!  We both shed some tears over that. It felt like a full circle moment.  And our parents didn’t have a voice in the matter.

I got the call while I was in Los Angeles.  The Santa Barbara County Superior Court wanted to interview me!  I explained the situation and asked if they could possibly give me a week.  They agreed.

I was glad my skirt covered the shaking of my knees when I entered the interview. I walked in to a conference room and glanced at the seven people seated around a long oval table.  My stomach lurched and my heart went into overdrive.  I didn’t stand a chance, and just wanted to feign sudden food poisoning or cardiac arrest and rush out of there. Words actually came out of my mouth and when it was all over I smiled and shook hands all around, stumbled back to my car, and cried.

A week later I got the call.  I had beat out 200 other applicants and was offered the job!  Now I would just have to fight against panic attacks, grief, and depression, and walk through the doors I believed the Lord had opened for me.

Within a few months, my office at the courthouse became my new safe place.  I worked with wonderful, caring people.  I was issuing birth and death certificates and marriage licenses right along with the best of them.  One day my boss came to me and asked me if I would like to take on the title of Commissioner of Civil Marriages.  My eyes widened as he stared at me intently.  I was starting to see a pattern here…God kept pushing me into unknown territory, challenging me beyond my comfort zones. My mind screamed “no,” but my mouth betrayed me.  “Yes, I’ll do it.”

For the next three-and-a-half years, I stood in a black robe at various locations around the Central Coast of California and had the time of my life marrying couples in civil marriage ceremonies.  I still worked as a deputy clerk, and made an extra $60 for each wedding I performed, which came in very handy in providing for my three children.

I performed a Greek toga wedding, a beautiful wedding on a cliff overlooking the ocean with a four-string quartet playing in the background, a wedding in a gazebo in a backyard at the beach, a wedding interrupted by the warning siren at Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, a wedding of 300 guests from India who all seemed to be named Patel.  The groomsmen tried to bribe me to say “You may now kiss the bride.   This would have been terribly offensive as this was not the true spiritual wedding, which would take place in three months.  I was glad I turned down the $200.  I performed over 400 weddings, including marrying one woman to two different men after the first one, performed three years earlier, ended in divorce.

Things were starting to look up.  I was in a good place.  I still suffered some anxiety, but I was definitely on the mend.  My children and I were safe, we had our needs met, and we were having fun for the first time in years.

And then something happened.  A tall, dark, handsome and dangerous man came walking into the courthouse.  All I saw was the tall, dark and handsome.  I just didn’t sense the dangerous… until it was too late.  Stay tuned!…

Have you ever felt you were making progress in your life only to make a mistake and take two steps back?  Let me know in the comment section!

The Cage Door Swings

English: Monarch butterflies

English: Monarch butterflies (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With my husband gone, I had to think about options.  I had not been able to work in about twelve years.  What had started out as simple panic attacks had turned into agoraphobia and raging, suicidal depression with psychotic features, all of which had been exacerbated by grief and despair.  My condition had improved somewhat over the years, but the stress of a marriage on the skids had taken its toll, and now I had a divorce to contend with.

I had never lived alone, and I was frightened.  On top of it all, my mother had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer and was dying.  Once she was gone, I would become the professed matriarch of our tiny family.  Even at thirty-four years old, I felt like an orphan.  I went to a well-respected church counselor at my large church for guidance.

“Linda, you need to move out of that house (the house I had rented with my husband, and could no longer afford on my own).  You need to get out, even if it’s to move into the housing projects.  You need to get a job…any kind of job, right now…this week!”

My mind reeled with this information.  I pictured it all…me moving into a dangerous neighborhood, raising my children around drug addicts and thieves.  The best job I could get with no skills was at a fast food restaurant.   I knew I could end up with a crazy ever-changing work schedule.  My youngest child was four-years-old.  What would I do with my children while I worked?  How would I ever better my life?  I would never get out, never be able to get an education.  I would be trapped in poverty forever.

I woke each morning with these thoughts replaying over and over in my mind. But this advice came from the church counselor, and I believed she wouldn’t be in the position she had on staff at our church if she weren’t thought of as someone who was wise, who heard from God.  Fear gnawed at me like a dog on a meat bone.

One day I mentioned what she had told me to my pastor’s wife.

“She doesn’t have to live it, does she?” she said softly.

Shock and joy hit me simultaneously.  Simple words and it was as if a cage door just flew open and let me out.  I didn’t have to blindly obey the church counselor?  I won’t bring the wrath of God down on my life?  I can actually think for myself?  What a concept.  Simple, and yet I was forever changed.

One morning, I was staring into the bathroom mirror, hurriedly applying make-up.  I had nowhere to go, really.  I was deep in thought about my future.  Where would we be in two years?  Where would we be in five?  I had no skills, no education.  How would I provide for my children?  Where would we go?  What will we do?

As if God were standing right next to me, I sensed a strong voice interrupting my reverie.  “I’m not asking you to live five years from now.  I’m only asking you to live today.”  My mascara wand stopped mid-stroke.  My eyes widened as I stared back at my reflection.  It was as if I was having an out of body experience and I suddenly found myself once again standing in front of my bathroom mirror.  I only have to live through today?

Over the next few days, ideas danced around my head like butterflies flitting through a flower garden.  My first step was to sign myself up for six secretarial courses at the local community college.   It was challenging.  I fought through panic attacks and depression so deep I felt I was drowning, but I took a deep breath after each hour-long class and forged on.

One night I had a dream.  I lay in a huge mahogany four-poster bed with a beautiful white spread over me.  In this dream, I awoke to find my mother silently approaching.  She was wearing a long white nightgown. She sat on the edge of the bed, threw her arms around me, and began to sob.  I felt helpless, but I comforted her as best I could.  I awoke with a start, and lay there thinking about her.

Back in Los Angeles, she was very ill, having suffered several rounds of chemotherapy.  Her cancer had spread to her lymph nodes, and a particularly large tumor in the back of her neck had twisted her face.  I spent as much time as I could running down to Los Angeles to see her, but my younger sister was there taking care of her, and she insisted I do not uproot the children, knowing her time was short.  My heart broke for her.

One weekend I drove down to be with her to spend the night in her smoke-filled bachelor apartment.  As soon as I got there, I began to have the familiar sensation of panic.  This was unknown territory.  My heart had ached for my mother’s love for as long as I could remember.  I had never reconciled many things that had happened between us.  She had never expressed her love for me, never held me, had never bought me a “Hallmark moment” card.  She was not an affectionate person.  She was emotionally closed off, and guarded herself carefully.

But I loved her desperately.  Watching her suffer was torture.  I arrived at the apartment and sat down on her couch.  Immediately she came over and sat down next to me, put her arms around me, and began to sob. It was as if someone hit the play button.   The dream I had three months before appeared in my mind as if it were playing on a movie screen.  I stiffened, but I sensed the presence of God in the room and I tried to breathe into the moment. I held my mother, patting her back softly.

“Why did God give me cancer?” my mom asked me.  I fumbled for words.

“He didn’t give you cancer, mom.  He loves you more than you could ever imagine.  We get these diseases because we live in a fallen, toxic world, and we don’t always take the best care of ourselves.”

She asked me more questions about God, about his love, about how she could know him. I asked her if I could pray for her.  I was treading very lightly.  I felt I was on holy ground but it was shaky and I was afraid I could blow it.

“Please,” she whispered.

Those next few moments were the most beautiful and pain-filled moments my mother and I ever spent together.  It was like a precious gift had been wrapped up for us and left on the doorstep of our hearts.

What happened next will surprise you.  Picture me in a black robe, holding an open book, and saying the words, “Dearly beloved…”  Stay tuned.