Holidays x One: Mother of the Groom

He was a bundle of excitement and energy – a high-pitched voice that we constantly mocked, “Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom!!!” over and over until he got eye contact and full-faced attention. Extra smart and outspoken, Jesse always started the school year enthusiastically. About the third week of school I would invariably get a call from the teacher.

“Can we have a little talk about Jesse?”

They either loved him or he drove them crazy.


I loved him. My sweet little bundle of baby boy was as honest as daybreak and as out there as the sunset, showing off every color, every shade, every nuance until his head hit the pillow at night with a thunk. Out.  He drove his sister crazy.  They shared a room and every night Molly would pray, “Please don’t let Jesse wake me up.”

I got divorced when he was two. So then began the round of split weekends, every other weekend with a dad that lasted until he was 18 years-old.

Junior High held some rough years and my second husband, Mike, was a God-send. They really liked each other and things smoothed over a bit. And actually it worked both ways. When Jesse was acting out and angry at the world, he committed his heart to Jesus Christ and learned self-control and surrender. Mike was completely impressed.

“Jesse showed me Jesus,” Mike said. “He showed me how to put my faith in God.”

The God in him stuck. In high school he passed out Christian pamphlets in Downtown San Diego. At UC Berkeley he joined a Christian fraternity, but worked in the summer at the local Ashram, asking his questions. He got a great high-paying job after college, but quit after six months, seeking something to satisfy his soul.

Jesse spent a year at a School of Evangelism – always questioning, not secure that he was hearing the voice of God, then following Jesus to a Mega-church conference in Atlanta for work. Just after Mike died, disillusioned with that sub-culture, he moved to the English Avenue neighborhood, with daily drug deals, boarded houses and families in need of love and light. He had 3,000 Facebook friends, girls who adored him, but he didn’t respond. He was on a mission.

So when Annabelle started showing up on his Facebook timeline when he was about 35 years-old, I didn’t think that much about it. Then he brought her to San Diego for Christmas.

The family fell immediately in love. In walked a tall, stunning, articulate, faith-filled woman who had a quirky side and great sense of humor. And beautiful, great style, with a passion for the English Avenue neighborhood. They could not have been a better fit. Before they left, I pulled him into my bedroom.

“Here, take my diamond ring.  If you’re smart, you’ll give it to her and cherish her rest of your life. She is a gift to you,” I said.

It was still a few months until the perfect proposal was worked out and the ring was hers. Both sets of parents were anxiously praying until we got the word – a wedding in October!

Being the Mother of the Groom is a different ballgame. Especially at a distance. I planned a rehearsal dinner in a city I’ve never seen, with people I’ve never met, while the kids wanted it outdoors and catered by Chipotle.   Some of the family was coming from England – would they even like Mexican food? I hurled myself into gear, sending boxes of candles, borrowing 10 serape tablecloths, shipping those white Mexican wedding banners and twinkle lights across the nation, along with lanterns, bowls and a box of colorful maracas to let the guests take home. We sat around under the lights, the children at the fire pit making s’mores, and heard the story of Jesse and Annabelle’s romance from a number of perspectives. Indeed, it seemed that heaven came down.

The wedding itsemcs_phillipswed-082lf reflected their values. A beautiful, historic venue. Guests as diverse and supportive as could possibly be. The couple washed each other’s feet, prayed over their future and danced ‘til they dropped – all sweetened by apple and peach pie.

My little boy had somehow become an entrepreneur, a leader in his community, a husband, and a Godly man. I still hear echoes of the “Mom, Mom, Mom!” and know that it won’t be too long before they have their own bundles of love piercing their ear drums on a sweet front porch overlooking the neighborhood where they are changing lives in Atlanta.


Holidays x One: Mother of the Bride

I got the phone call a few seconds after my son read me the text, so it wasn’t a complete surprise.

“Roe and I are engaged and we’re so happy.”

I still save the message on my phone.

It was the voice of a woman, that voice, not of a young girl or a giddy 20-something. The voice was of my 35 year-old daughter who had been through hard times, health caFB_41rises and bitter disappointments before moving 4,000 miles away for a fresh start. Four thousand miles to Portland, Maine from San Diego, California.

She couldn’t get further away from me and our persistent disapproval of each other and still be in the continental United States.

I was so happy and relieved that my daughter would have a partner who loved her and could help her through life – a soulmate, as it turned out. From what I could tell about my future son-in-law he was smart, caring, kind and deeply loved my daughter. Deeply loved.

But then I also went into a period of grieving. My daughter would have a husband while I did not. They would walk hand in hand on the beach, visit museums, explore restaurants and cities and each other. Places that I now awkwardly go alone, self-conscious and a little afraid. My time as a wife and mother is over. But I wrestled that self-pity monster to the ground fairly quickly.

Instead I went into a whirlwind of Mother of the Bride activities as much as possible when email and Facebook and texting were the common form of communication. An occasional phone call. I was tasked with making napkin rings and plunged into my task with fervor. I bought a beautiful dress and then bought her a gorgeous gown. All the rest, décor, favors, food, music, was a mystery to me. Boundaries were clearly set by this woman, my daughter. She unfriended me on Facebook.

“Don’t you think it’s kind of weird to have your mother as your Facebook friend?”

Is it?

As luck or fate or a loving God would have it, I inherited a little money and was able to fly myself and her little sister to Bath, Maine, rent a cottage and be ground zero for finalizing favors, making nametags, baking a wedding cake and put the finishing touches on her excellent vision for the day. Aunts and Uncles, her Brother and his fiance from Atlanta all joined in to make her special day come off beautifully. She was a stunning bride, poised and capable, and enjoyed every minute of the ceremony and reception as a new Mrs.

The day before, just she and I took a trip to the WalMart in New Brunswick for a last-minute list. We went through those aisles like it was Christmas.
“Let’s get this!”
“Oh, I want one of those!”
kbridaltableWe filled the cart with practical things like flashlights, and frivolous things like ribbon and bought the most beautiful blue fabric to make a Bride and Groom table. As we piled the cart high, I felt like I had my little girl back, one last time. It was the most fun we had together in years and years. And it was all mine.

Mine alone.

When my daughter was young, maybe six or seven, she had her first piano recital after only a few lessons. We sat in the audience; nervous and trembling. She came on stage, hair in ribbons and a starchy new dress, and sat down on the bench. She placed her piano music above the keyboard. And…

And stared at it. It was the wrong music.

Then, slowly, she took the book off of the music stand. Folded it next to her on the bench, then positioned her hands and played the simple tune anyway. By heart.

It was a defining moment that took me years to absorb. She was capable. She could meet challenges on her own terms. She could overcome them with poise and grace.

And she still does. And she is still mine in my heart.

Just not mine alone.

molly & Roe


Holidays x One: Fourth of July


     Growing up in 1950s Eagle Rock, in NE Los Angeles, July 4th was a community event. The families gathered at the local park where children roamed in packs from one family blanket to another. Cotton candy was the food staple, accompanied by sandwiches, hot dogs purchased from the local firefighters with GIANT vats of ketchup pumped by our little hands and ending up on our little shirts. At dark my two older sisters and I would huddle together on the blanket and compete to guess the color of the next firework –shooting into the air and exploding over our heads while we oohed and aahed in delight and wonder – always a little afraid that those trails of burning light might last long enough to land on us and kind of hoping they would. In those days you were left to your own thoughts about freedom, bombs bursting in air and patriotism, without any music to push you further.

The fireworks were amazing in blazing reds, silver, blue and gold, dancing over the monuments and the river. The U.S. Navy Band played and the breeze carried the sound and the colors over our heads and into our hearts.  

When I was single and working in Washington, D.C. it happened to be the Bicentennial year of 1976 when a large group of us met at the hillside of Arlington Cemetery, along with hundreds of others, to watch the special fireworks display. We young women spread out red, white and blue blankets and pulled out picnic baskets overflowing with fried chicken, pies, quiches, apples and cherries, hoping to impress the young men who did handstands and cartwheels on the grass hoping to impress us. The fireworks were amazing in blazing reds, silver, blue and gold, dancing over the monuments and the river. The U.S. Navy Band played and the breeze carried the sound and the colors over our heads and into our hearts.

As a young mother, I lived in Los Angeles while my husband, Randy, pursued a career as a film editor and I wrote Sunday School stories for a curriculum publisher. And worked on a screenplay, like every other LA writer. We lived at the top of a high hill overlooking Chavez Revine and set up our balcony as Fourth of July Central. The babies were bathed and in pajamas and sat on our laps while we downed beers and burped through God Bless America. From there we could see fireworks at eye level and several others surrounding downtown. I played “What color is the next one?” with my toddlers.

A few years later I was a single Mom living on a historic street in La Mesa and we organized a 4th of July parade with all the children. I bought a cassette tape of Sousa Marches and we put in in the red wagon. Costumes were fashioned and ranged from Uncle Sam to Mary Poppins to Jerry Mahoney. Neighbors sat on their front lawns and watched the children march up one side and down the other, once, again, and yet again. The local newspaper documented the event.  On my front lawn was a table of watermelons – icy cold and sliced – so the whole street gathered and ate and a new tradition was started – spitting seeds into the bushes.

Ten years later my July 4ths became water events for the next decade. My new husband, Mike, was a boat guy. We’d gather a group of kids and friends and head out to the water, getting as close to the barges as possible. Earsplitting launches exploded into incredible colors spinning and spiraling overhead. And yes, as the fireworks burned their way into the water at times, sizzling and fizzling like a match. But I was never afraid with Mike around. That lasted, even after he became ill, until the year that our oldest child’s family and their best friends came over to watch fireworks from our back lawn. I was again on top of a hill and we could see about four different displays coming from various locations in the valley below. The grandkids were parked on blankets on our lawn, dancing colors reflected in their faces, eyes wide in wonder. It was the most beautiful July 4th of all. The next day I was awakened by a noise that sounded like the random firecrackers that get set off in neighborhoods. But it was different. Pounding. At last I sat up and realized that it was sound of Mike’s cane.

“Mike, are you O.K.?” I shouted from my bed.

“No,” he shouted back. “I’m blind.”

After that, I didn’t make a big deal of fireworks. I didn’t seem fair to watch them with a blind man.

This week I planned ahead. I’m a widow now and living at the little La Mesa house again.

My sister called, “Are you doing anything for the Fourth?”

“Yes,” I said. “I bought a rack of ribs that I’m going to slow cook on the barbeque, corn on the cob and then some hot dogs to use up the coals. I have some wine, some sweet potato fries, fresh green beans from the Farmer’s Market and I bought a Key Lime pie. I got a fire log for the fire ring after dark and I might put a beach chair on the roof to see if I can see any fireworks.”

“You must be expecting company.”

“No, actually, I just wanted to create a fabulous day for myself. I’m going to sit in the shade and finish the courtroom novel on my Kindle, be in my bathing suit, do a little yard work and putter around. I’ve got the outdoor shower if it gets hot and the fire ring if it gets cold. It will be perfect.”

And it was.

My 21-year-old daughteDSC03997r did drop by and we watched Chef together and hung out and ate ribs and corn and caught up a little. I gave her my tickets to the Fair and she spent time on her phone hustling up a friend to take to watch fireworks, as she should. I hope her 4th was one of the memorable ones.

Was yours?

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Holidays x One: The Last Time I Considered Motherhood

The following is an excerpt from my book, The Truth Swing: It’s Not What They Taught Me in Sunday School. 

Chapter 10 – A Choice      1preggers

The room was dark and outside crickets kept a rhythmic chant just past my bedroom door. Beyond the door was a private brick patio with a high wooden fence. Stepping stones wound a path down to the hot tub. Another unmarked path of sorts had been worked through the trees and bushes beyond the wood fence to a dirt driveway crowned with arches of tree branches. A driveway where a truck could hide in secret from the road, from the windows of the kids’ bedrooms upstairs or from the driveway. Even a white truck.

I was awake at the first sound and the crickets became silent. Tires on the dirt and rock ground to a halt. Headlights went dark.

The knock at night.

I opened the door and was swept up into an embrace that took my breath away.

“What are you doing?” I whispered as the door opened.

“I miss you.”

His kiss was homey and comfortable. This was neither a fairy tale nor romance novel. This was a real man, a good man, coming to see me. Missing me. Wanting me. The knock in the night worked its magic. We snuggled close and soon our snores became a soft counterpoint to the cricket staccato.

What are you doing?  The voice rang through my head and my eyes opened wide. I sat up like a shot. 

            What WAS I doing?  Who was this person?  Who was I? Forty-one years-old with a thickening waist, skin tight around a womb that held growing tissue and blood. Cells splitting and doubling every day. A baby!  I have a fulltime career, a man who loves me and four stepchildren that I’m trying to get to trust me, plus my own two getting at that eye-rolling stage.

            But I do want a baby. I don’t feel finished. I feel like there will always be a “his” and “mine” without the “ours.”  I can do this. I can do a baby. I’ve done it for years alone. If I have to be alone again, I’ll do it. Lord, help me figure this out.   

Morning brought the elephant in the living room into sharp focus. What were we going to do about the pregnancy? Mike brought me coffee, toast and an omelet on a tray. I sat up and fluffed the pink pillowcases. He went to pick a rose from outside but as he was coming through the doorway, I threw off the covers and made a beeline for the toilet…head first. Mike was patient while I brushed my teeth and tongue and wiped my mouth with a towel, then sat on the edge of the bed.

“We have to talk,” I said. A relationship-killer if I ever heard one. I wasn’t even embarrassed by the cliché.

He stared at me, didn’t flinch, didn’t whine, didn’t look away.

“It’s not so much about the baby,” I started to explain. “I’m pretty old to be wanting a baby. The thought of picking up a diaper bag and carrying it around until I’m 42 is not a happy thought. But it’s about the family. How can we say we want to try to blend a family and be a new family and not have the one thing that can really make us one, our baby together? It just doesn’t make sense to me.”

Mike listened, thought a moment, then framed a response carefully. His deep, soothing voice finally spoke.

“There is also the potential that every one of the other kids may feel instantly left out,” Mike said. “We don’t want everyone else to feel abandoned or not a part of a family and that only the baby matters to us. Where will that leave us?”

It was a good point.  My two were reaching that age when they disconnect anyway and don’t feel that they matter to anyone, let alone career-mom with a hot husband.  Would a baby sever that thin thread of trust that remains between a mom and a teenager? Will I be able to love them enough? Can any mother love them enough when they are twelve and fourteen?

I looked up into Mike’s calm face.

“My gynecologist is a friend. I’ll call her about my decision.”

“Don’t you mean OUR decision?” Mike’s voice was tight, no longer a melodious lullaby.

I looked him in the eye.

“It’s my body. It’s happening to me. I will be the one throwing up every morning, sticking to healthy eating, not drinking wine, assuming the responsibility.

“You will get to choose whether or not to be responsible to raise this child. Men get to walk away and pretty much do walk away most of the time. No shame, no stigma, no sweat. It’s pregnant girls who get thrown out of high school, why not the boys, too? Engaging with family will always be a choice for men! They get to choose every day for the rest of their lives!

I took a breath and swallowed. Mike was looking down.

“My choice is right now.”

“And you’re going to make it alone? Without me?

“Me and God. We are going to make this choice.”

Scripture tells us that words are as powerful as a sword and it’s so true. I could see the cuts in Mike’s hurt eyes.

“My choice is now,” I repeated to Mike.

Holidays x One: Passover/Easter


Passover and Easter have evolved into odd civic holidays that celebrate the rites of Spring, fertility, rebirth, seeds spouting, lambs being born (and eaten), eggs being decorated (and eaten), chicks and bunnies soft and squeaking in baskets, or their chocolate equivalents smearing across tiny faces. Why odd?

Well even though at Christmas the birth of Christ and arrival of Santa Claus have no connection, there’s the giving of a gift that affords it some type of universal credence. But the Easter Bunny has no connection whatsoever to slavery, deliverance, death and resurrection.

Passover commemorates the release of the Jewish slaves from captivity in Egypt. The story is rich with plagues, a secret prince (Moses), murder and miracles, the parting of the Red Sea, the visit of the first-born sons by the angel of death. The key ingredient at the Seder table is unleavened bread representing their hurried departure.
Easter commemorates the betrayal of Jesus Christ, who claimed to be the Messiah, the Son of God, his trials, crucifixion, death, burial. Then his resurrection. The key ingredient is the wine and bread representing the spilt blood and pierced flesh of Christ. No chocolate bunnies in sight.

Digging deeper, both celebrations invite us to remember what is gone and to wait for deliverance.

Remembering can be hard for the person who is alone. I lived for years with a busy houseful of children, step-children, “adopted” children and friends of children. It was expansive and fun within those four walls. The phone rang constantly, events, meals, cars coming and going, birthdays, graduations, new jobs, lost jobs. I used to tell them, “If you have a crisis you have about three weeks to milk it because by then another will come along.”

Remembering and re-living that season of my life is a struggle. I look at pictures and sigh. I wonder how all those folks are doing, grown with their own homes, their own families, work and accomplishments. It’s weird to go all day without a phone call, not to be making a costume, a decoration, a huge dinner or even a dessert. I sometimes look up their Facebook pages even if I’m not a friend, just to see their smiles.

Maybe a better way is to remember with joy and be grateful for having that time of life at all. One that many would have given anything to have had. Think back to your favorite Easter memories–was it hiding eggs as a child – or finding them? Was it brand new patent leather shoes at any age? Spring break in college? Surrounding a church pulpit with dozens of lilies? Cutting off a piece of crusty, salty lamb fat and popping it in your mouth with a juicy sliver of meat?

Waiting for change is an even greater challenge, even if it’s not deliverance from bondage or rising from the dead. The change we think will never get here. The check that’s in the mail. The escrow taking forever to close. The vacation that we’ve been putting off year after year. The retirement that we keep pushing back.

Often it’s the waiting that brings about more change than the actual receiving of what you are waiting to happen. Waiting strengthens us, even when it’s hard. But sometimes what comes after is just plain miraculous.

That’s worth remembering.

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Holidays x One: St. Patrick’s Day

ShamrockWe raise a glass of green beer, or Bailey’s or Irish Whiskey and wear green so we don’t get pinched and think that maybe – just for a day – there are “little people” stealing our pens from our desks, scampering through the kitchen cupboards and hiding pots of gold at the end of rainbows. No other Christian saint has embodied a more eclectic set of myths and legends, both real and imagined, than the young British 16 year-old boy who was captured by Irish pirates and held as a slave for six years.

That ordeal ended when he heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Your ship is ready,” perhaps an early Gaelic version of “Your ship has come in?”  He escaped, walked 200 miles to a port and spent three days starving on board before finally reaching home. After gaining an education and becoming a clergyman, Patrick was given a new vision to return to Ireland, the land of his abject humiliation and dread. Return he did, spouting redemption in Jesus Christ and becoming a beloved Saint.

Who does that?  Me, I run from pain.  I block off hurtful memories. Why revisit the place of loneliness?

All it takes is courage. And a little faith.

So on this special feast day of March 17, celebrated nearly worldwide on behalf of a saint whom we now associate with druids, snakes, dragons, drinking and corned beef, cabbage and potatoes, why not whip up some resolve and think back. Drive out the snakes and behead the dragons that you carry around with you from the past.

Have you been imprisoned by abuse, by poverty, by others’ expectations? Have your own choices been like chains at your ankles and were you once a slave to your addictions or desires, hoping for rescue? And then you became your own white knight, escaped and trod the 200-mile road of recovery?

Here’s to you.

Did you receive a vision to set yourself apart from the crowd and become inspired to get out of debt? Step away from keeping up with your neighbors, buying that fancier car, going on that exotic vacation to feel better than others? And how did that feel? And how long did that feeling last? Are you done with all of that?

Here’s to you.

Have you heard the voice of God calling you to be loved by him, to trust his grace to meet your needs and guide your future? Do you know that he is for you and is as close as the next breath you take? That God is in you and around you, above you and lifting you up and has been there all along. And, regardless of the circumstances, loves you like a favorite child.

Can you look at your life and see that you were not alone? Never alone.

Maybe it’s not so bad, once a year, to step back from the parades and crowds and go back to those hard places that we’ve survived. The dragons we’ve conquered. The beliefs we stand on. We may not be saints, but we’re making progress with faith and courage.

Here’s to us.

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Holidays x One: Love yourself

Valentine's Day for One

Valentine’s Day for One

No one loves me. Oh, I get Valentine’s cards from my kids, occasionally. Or I used to. That started to drop off after 6th grade and now that they are all living on their own and adults, that’s more of a memory. My parents are gone, God rest their souls. My husband is sailing around heaven in a 57 ft. sailboat. I have some great friends, new and old, who are dear to me. But the best thing about Valentine’s Day to me is that three cute pillows I made sold at the gift store down the street. I’m the one who gets scheduled to work until 10 p.m. on Valentine’s Day because no one loves me. It’s true.

Approaching Valentine’s Day alone could be daunting and although there are lots of opportunities to show love to strangers or go to a Cupid is Stupid party, I have a better idea.

Love yourself.

Why not take a day to acknowledge love that you have given and has been given to you at different stages of your life, even if they are over. Take a day to know that you have been loved, whether it was grandma, your dad, your infant child, your best friend in 3rd grade or that fumbling, passionate prom date. We know what being loved feels like and it’s OK to celebrate that feeling and bathe in it – at least for one day.  Jump start love for yourself.

Maybe you love your house, or your yard, or your neighborhood or the beach or a fireplace or a favorite spot in town. Go there. Spend time with the place you love. Sit. Take in the smells and the feelings. Take pictures of your favorite place and start a scrapbook of places you love. You don’t have to post them or pin them. Just keep them for yourself as a love letter to you. It’s not a waste of your time to take pleasure in what you love.

Love the skin you are in.  So many of us see negatives in the mirror. Take a good long look. What do you love about your appearance?  Is it your hair, your eyebrows, your smile?  Is it the way your clothes fit or the way they improve your body?  Does red make you smile?  I bought a red chiffon blouse with silver sparkles at the neck and sleeves for my Valentine’s Day outfit, even though I sat at a cubicle all day. My desk mate offered me a piece of Godiva chocolates she got from her husband. I doubt if she had thought of it if I had been wearing black. It didn’t matter that my blouse was a size 16. It was a Valentine to my co-workers.

Speaking of skin, dig out some of those skin care products you got for Christmas. In fact, go through the drawers or shelves where you stash your body lotion, face cream and anti-aging Olay bottles. First of all, clean them out and throw away the ones that are too old and still in your guest bathroom basket. Toss the ones that smell like your grandmother. Fill the trash can with the care products that you no longer care about. Next, smooth on the ones that make you feel pampered. Lather the body lotion all over. Try a facial cream or age spot removers or give yourself a 30-minute whitening treatment for your teeth.

Do the same with your hair products. Throw away the hair spray with the stuck nozzle. The mascara that clumps, the lipstick that is no longer creamy. Polish is another demon. Lids that won’t twist, clumps in the bottle, solids in the hairs of the applicators.

Look around. Take the hair out of your hairbrush and throw it in the sink for a soak. All those overcrowded baskets and containers need a fresh start. Make sure everything is fresh and nothing you grab will be tired, dried up, cracked, stuck.

Approach your mirror knowing that nothing you will put on your body has the potential to do harm.

Instead, love it.

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