Sunday, November 28, 2004

Thanksgiving Weekend 2004

Apologies to Ron, but I adore George Bailey. I simply love George least once a year.

Yes, it's that time of year. It's a Wonderful Life time, when George and Mary Bailey and their Bedford Falls family and friends come alive in our family room. George is a decent, generous, caring (if a tiny bit cranky) family man, just like....well, Ron. In my eyes anyway.

It's a Wonderful Life is a 1946 b&w film that celebrates the triumph of love, prayers and right-living over broken dreams, fear, despair and frustration. Actor Jimmy Stewart embodies the hard-working, compassionate George Bailey, and Donna Reed is perfect as the hopeful, loving, resourceful wife and mother. It's a shamelessly joyous tearjerker, and one of only two films that never fail to bring tears to my eyes. (The other is Philadelphia starring Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington. A magnificent film with near-genius acting, but hardly joyous.)

Like past Thanksgiving Saturdays, Ron and I cuddled on the family room couch last night in front a blazing fire, and hung on every scene and story detail of this film classic.

It was a delightfully romantic start to Christmas season 2004.

For the second year, we spent Thanksgiving Day serving dinner to the needy and homeless as part of the We Give Thanks program. We cancelled our trip to visit Ron's parents and extended family in Reno for the week due to Ron's work pressures. We host the family Christmas Day gathering at our home, so I won't miss out on preparing a feast for our loved ones. We were invited to my sister and brother-in-law's home in San Diego for the holiday, but we just spent last weekend with them at my son's wedding.

We Give Thanks serves 10,000 to 15,000 meals to the needy and homeless each Thanksgiving Day in an Anaheim strip mall parking lot outside the La Casa Garcia restaurant. Frank Garcia began the shared holiday meal 19 years ago to give back to his local neighborhood. What started as a dinner for hundreds of the hungry has grown into a major event with corporate donations, live music, 1400 volunteers, months of advance planning, TV and newspaper reporters, fundraiser tee-shirts, appearances by politicians and a blessing by the Catholic Bishop of the Orange County diocese.

Last year, Ron, Andrea and I ladled heaps of steaming veggies and mashed potatoes onto plates. This year, we cleared and cleaned tables. And for volunteers (like me) with a gift of gab, it was a splendid chance to sit down and break bread with people who are alone this holiday. Most attendees were Hispanic families with young children, but many were obviously alone or lonely.

I tried to remove a plate of leftovers near a 20-ish man in zipped-up jacket and green baseball cap who was wolfing down a sky-high plate of turkey and trimmings, but he waved me off......he planned to eat the leftovers. Later, he walked away with another full portion in a bulging take-out container. I set a goal for myself to help the scruffy and shy on the margins of activity...the ones ignored by others. (You know....WWJD.) I asked a tall and lean, unwashed man if I could take his plate and trash from him. Tears welled up in his eyes, he touched my hand and muttered, "Thank you. I can do it myself. Don't do it for me. But thank you."

Our families are excited about our support of this program for the hungry. Last year, we told a few church friends, but they acted we were bragging and they felt guilty. We would have loved to share the experience with our church family, but decided to not tell anyone this year. We're not doing it to be admired. It's a pity though, that we can't enlist others without striking a chord of competitive Christianity.

Andrea told her best girlfriend and carpool buddy from school, a committed Christian who attends an Asian evangelical church in Irvine. Her dad called us Wed evening for the scoop. We were delighted and surprised when the Kenmotsu family joined us there for a day of cleaning, clearing and serving.

By the way, this is no sacrifice. The food is delicious, the music and dancing lively, the company gregarious and grateful, the afternoon sky blue and cool. It was honestly a pleasure and privilege.

Yes, the Christmas house lights are up. We're the second house on the street with lights. Ron and Andrea put them up on Saturday.

Don and Barb (with the 62" gigantic-screen TV) are hosting an old-fashioned Christmas Open House for the street on December 12. (Of course, I've been asked to bring my world-class fudge, and Andrea makes a mean snickerdoodle that they've also requested.)

Let's just must have their Christmas lights up before the big shindig or risk raised eyebrows and veiled comments. And the outspoken Irish Catholic woman down the street will simply give you her opinion of your lack of Christmas spirit. No beating around the bush for her.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Thanksgiving Thought

"Thanksgiving is traditionally a time spent gathered around the dinner table with family and close friends. Although for those who come from broken homes, who have lost loved ones, or who may be experiencing financial hardships, it can be a difficult time of year, filled with loneliness, painful memories and at time, even hunger.

Sometimes, amidst the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it helps to be reminded of what providence has left behind. Thanksgiving Day was born out of gratitude and praise. It was a day set apart to acknowledge the many favors of Almighty God from whom all our blessings are derived. Thanksgiving began as a holy day, and its origins are deeply rooted in faith.

This Thanksgiving, take the time to acknowledge with gratitude and praise the many favors of Almighty God. Make this a time of reflection, repentance and new beginnings. Spend time in prayer and search out God's will in the scriptures.

Share your blessings with those in need. Reach out to those around you, at work, in church, and throughout your neighborhood. Watch for those who many be lonely, hurting or searching for answers, and take the opportunity to share God's love with them."

----- Koininia House Online, November 2004

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Irritated at the Christmas Light Show-off

Boy, are we irritated. Our neighbor two doors down already put up his Christmas lights. He violated an unspoken but inviolate street house lights before Thanksgiving.

Ron, Andrea and I came home last night from the season's first performance of The Glory of Christmas (our new daughter-in-law ushers for it.....freebie tickets!) , and there they were. Glowing red, green, blue and white. Twinkling, blinking, shining alone on the street. Brilliant in the dark night.

Allen's a quiet, nice enough guy, but he's a Christmas light show-off. He's home all day, tinkering on cars, electronic hobbies and home maintenance stuff. He's retired due to a vague permanent disability. His Christmas lights are his claim to fame. His special offering to the world. His annual source of compliments.

He doesn't put up lots of lights, but he cleverly programs them to nightly change colors and patterns. Some nights they blink, some nights not. Some nights they beam in solid colors, some nights in intricate patterns. Even his December programming schedule is creative and unpredictable. One-time visitors to our street wouldn't notice his lights. They don't stand out among our tract home displays, unless you visit here regularly. The novelty is that they change.

For the last few years, every home on our side of the street puts up Christmas lights. We take pride that the west siders share a civic spirit of Christmas, whether Mormons, Catholics, Baptists, EVFreers, Friends, or whatever. We agree on festive lights, cheery holiday spirit and exchanges of small gifts.

Allen violated the unspoken rule, though. We usually all put our lights up over Thanksgiving weekend. Embarrassed stragglers who travelled over the turkey holiday take work off early the next week to install their holiday house lights.

But Allen has upped the ante. He's raised the bar for Christmas lights. Now we're the stragglers!

Perhaps a Survivor-like neighborhood tribal council is in order to bring him back in line. :>)

Monday, November 22, 2004

Wedding of a Sometime Prodigal Son

My 26 year old son, Ryan, got married Saturday. My son who has to feel the pain before he changes course; my son who has often not taken the straight and narrow path; my son with the huge, warm heart. My son who has been forgiven much, and who forgives much. My son who has taught me more than I ever needed to learn. My fun-loving, literate, creative, deeply caring son. My sometime Prodigal Son.

The wedding was formal, yet completely out of control. The soloist never showed, yet the traditional wedding march was played on one of the most powerful pipe organs in the US. The florist ran out of red roses. We had to step over beflowered grosgain ribbons to reach the pews. The bride was late because she forgot to arrange for a ride to the church. The reception was 56 miles from the church.

It was vintage Ryan. Keystone Cops on a sacred occasion. Surprises at every turn, yet the sweetest wedding in memory.

He surprised his bilingual, Peruvian bride at the altar by taking his vows in Spanish. The pastor, touched by Ryan's loving gesture, remarked during the ceremony, "That's true love...taking vows in another language." to which my quick-witted son quipped, "That's OK. She's going to say it in English." And she did.

At the last minute before leaving home, I tucked a Bible into my purse. Minutes before the ceremony, the pastor asked "Who's doing the scripture reading." Huh? What scripture reading? Thusly, God blessed me with the great privilege of reading I Corinthians 13 at my son's wedding.

Fifteen minutes before she walked down the aisle, the bride sobbed in my arms from wedding plan burnout and sheer nerves. And then she gave me one of the great gifts of my life.

I have prayed for years and years for Ryan to accept Jesus Christ as his savior. As his mother, I absolutely know it's in his heart, but he avoids church. He won't take his elementary school Bible from me. I hold it, waiting for the day when he'll take it back. (I offer it back to him every Christmas.) He resists God. He won't discuss it with me.

I comforted Giovanna, a staunch, committed Christian. Just'll finally be married to Ryan. Wedding details don't matter. God is blessing you...smiling down on you. And Ryan is getting married in a church. He is a step closer to accepting Jesus Christ.

"He knows it, you know," she gulped between sobs. "He believes."

"Knows what? Huh?"

"The Bible."

I looked at her quizzically.

"We had a fight last year. It was awful...I was crying," she sobbed. I dabbed her tears.

"He said those words.....the ones you're going to say in the wedding. I Corinthians13. And he recited the 23rd Psalm, too. He said them from memory."

Joy leaped in my breast. Real joy. It is in his heart. Hidden in his heart. He relies on the Word.

A few minutes later, I watched my son take his marriage vows before God. He even kneeled and prayed, and he took communion.

As I read I Corinthians 13 to Ryan and Giovanna during their wedding, I paused twice. Tears of profound joy blurred my eyes and choked my throat.......just as they are now as I write these words.

God is so good.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Rehearsel at the Crystal Cathedral

Andrea and I were at the Crystal Cathedral last night for rehearsel for my son's wedding this Saturday. He and his bride are getting married in the Cathedral itself, as her Aunt Marcella is active and connected in church life there. We have the Crystal Cathedral all to ourselves for a two-hour window.

Andrea, our sheltered yet wise-beyond-her-years 8th grader, was stunned at the enormity and grandeur of the entire Crystal Cathedral campus......from synchronized waterfalls, manmade lakes and vast manicured gardens to sculpture, innumerable lavishly understated buildings appointed with exquisitely minimalist furniture, a soothing 400-person sanctuary, and, of course, the shimmering, transparent sky-high cathedral.

While waiting for the bride and her mother to arrive, we leafed through church newspapers and brochures. Andrea's eyes lit up......sports leagues for girls; musical concerts by popular Christian artists; lots of options for small group studies; fascinating and varied volunteer opportunities. A veritable cornucopia of activites for all ages. A holy Disneyland for the evangelical-minded.

The sumptuous Glory of Christmas production was in full dress rehearsel in the Cathedral. When leaving campus, we strolled by artfully-costumed actors and besaddled horses. Andrea and I waited in the cold starry night, listening to a rich baritone voice singing O Holy Night.

"Wow" she exclaimed. "Wow.....this is" She couldn't find the right didn't fit her experience of church. "It's so beautiful." She breathed in, then shook her head. "Did you see who's gonna be here? They're my favorite group!"

She looked at me.

I gathered my thoughts, and softly replied, "'s beautiful. Really beautiful. But it's not church. It's theater. It's entertainment."


"Oh're right."

Monday, November 15, 2004

Birthday Present to Myself

It's my birthday today. I have love, reasonable health, my first grandchild on the way, and a personal relationship with is sublime. It's a good and generous time, and I'm deeply grateful. Presents are nice, though, as is a celebratory meal (or two) with loved ones.

For the first time in our comfortable lives, Ron and I have not been blessed with financial stability for the past 4 years. Our "" business, that we spent 2 years building, was devastated by 9/11, and had to be closed. Just as we were recovering, Ron was unexpectedly laid-off in fall 2002. He was unemployed for 8 months, and we were without steady income or insurance benefits. He's been back in the job market for over a year now, but the company is struggling and things look bleak. He has a better plan and new skills and credentials for the next lay-off, but it won't be easy.

We've learned a lot from these uncomfortable times. We sold the 3400-sq foot house, and actually enjoy living in a much smaller, modest abode. (Way less to do!) I suppose it's a positive to have an older, maintenance-free car.....but I still dream of another gleaming, new Jeep Grand Cherokee. We spend little and have only basic bills plus one last debt from our defunct business, so life is pleasantly simpler. Ron and I have grown even closer to each other during this season, and our walks with and reliance on the Lord have never been stronger.

These past 4 years have also caused us to examine how we desire to spend our work time. Ron wants to teach, not toil as a manufacturing engineer. He's tired of the soul-robbing corporate grind, and would rather spend the next 15 years in a classroom. We've made the decision that once his current gig is gone, he'll be teaching. Despite the paycut.

And I want to write, undistracted. So my birthday present to myself......and Ron's present to the gift of focus.

I'm closing my eBay bookstore this week, and devoting my energies only to writing. Supply of books on eBay is up drastically, and demand and selling prices are down considerably, so it would take more and better effort to make a living there. I will still sell the occasional item, but that takes little energy.

I've wanted to focus on only my writing since I was a high school newspaper staffer. I always said I would do it sometime. Sometime when I have time. Sometime in the future. Sometime whenever this or that happens.'s probably now or never, and Ron and I choose now.

Again...I am deeply grateful that sometime is here. I can't imagine a better birthday gift.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Don's 62" Gigantic-Screen TV

Our next-door neighbors, Don and Barb, took delivery this week of a 62" gigantic-screen Mitsubishi TV. Don is a mid-60s grandfather who has retired (or been retired) from the air-conditioning industry 4 or 5 times. Years ago, he used to drink too much, but I've never seen him drink at all. Barb is 8 years younger than Don. She teaches elementary school, goes to garage sales and then breakfast on Saturdays with girlfriends, and exercises at a gym many days. They're Baptists, but don't attend church much anymore since the church hired a young senior pastor.

Don and Barb have lived in the same home for more than 30 years. They keep the frontyard immaculate. (We don't...that sometimes irritates Don.) Their grass is a putting-green perfect carpet of green. Their roses are trimmed weekly, and flower beds are frequently replenished with new, fresher plants.

As if to proclaim that their home is a country unto itself, Don had a flagpole installed next to the driveway before we moved in. The American flag always waves over their cars and lawn. Last year, Don paid someone to spend 2 days refinishing his flagpole.

We've gone swimming in their pool a few times, and had dinner once at their home. We casually visit over the fence, and keep up on vacations and major family news, and the Anaheim Angels. Ron and Andrea went to an Angels game last summer with Barb and Allen, their son who lives in Orange. Don doesn't like crowds, and can't handle sell-out baseball games anymore.

Don used to know everyone's business on our street. I have to say...I've never heard him gossip. He'd ask how things are going....offer to lend a hand. Randy, a 30-something man who lives next door to us on the other side, is a paraplegic. He and his wife rolled their van on a freeway 5 years ago, and it left Randy in a wheelchair. Don used to help Randy bathe and do mundane chores for them when Randy first came home after the accident. Don spent an entire summer day once fixing our faulty air-conditioning.

Don can be reclusive, though. His negotiable world is small, and the greater world is hard to bear. The distant TV world beamed into his family room is becoming more palatable to him than venturing out into the changing, challenging real world.

Their daughter, Kim, had a baby almost a year ago. Kim and her husband waited 10 years to have a child, so they were used to being out and about, child-free. Don and Barb first started watching the baby 2 afternoons a week, but now she's over there a lot.

Some weekends lately, I see a light on in the family room, but otherwise, it's hard to tell if they're even home. They don't leave the house much, and rarely toil in the yard anymore on Saturdays or Sundays. Except for waving at Barb leaving for work about the time I take Andrea to school, we never see them these days. Even when the baby's not there.

I do realize that it's football season, and Don loves football. His beloved 49ers are having an awful season, though, and he can't stand to see them lose. And he enjoys watching baseball and the Angels almost as much as football. This is more than a seasonal absence, though. I'm sure that during early spring between the end of football season and the beginning of baseball, when pretty spring flowers need to be planted in frontyard beds, we'll see Don more again. At least for a while.

It's sad, though, to see him gradually disengage from the world and cocoon with Barb and the baby into TV land. He has a good heart and a gift at helping others around the house. He was the glue that kept the neighborhood cohesive.

But he now has a 62" gigantic-screen Mitsubishi TV for engagement and companionship.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Attacked by the Wedding Reception Committee

My son is marrying a wonderful Peruvian woman in 10 days, and they are expecting a child in mid-2005. We just found out last week about their good news, so wedding hoopla has been hectic.......unbelievably hectic.

Despite my best half-serious avoidance maneuvers, I have been included in planning the reception. Included on the family wedding reception committee are my ex-husband's wife, my future daughter-in-law's mother (who is currently not acknowledging that she speaks or understands much English; I've been told that it's a cultural pride thing.) and aunt, the bride and me.

A committee of women all from the same family-to-be. All bright, outspoken women with strong, strong minds. All with opinions. And only one who has no problem with making swift, firm In fact, I might be the only one remotely capable of any decision-making whatsoever in any context whatsoever! (Sense my frustration yet?)

Plans change with the hour. Venue, band and or no band, napkins and plates and silverware, and good Lord, the food. It's gotten so wacky and out-of-control that the person I communicate best with at this point is my ex-husband's wife, and we haven't liked each other for 20 years.

Years ago when I worked in public accounting, many of us had a useful escape strategy for when the in-laws or similar came to visit for a few stressful weeks. Drum up a legit business trip for at least a couple days. Then show back up refreshed and blameless toward the end of their visit.

I have no escape hatch here. The best plan I have is complete agreement, no matter what, and oodles of creative delegating.

Ron says to be grateful that it'll be over in 10 days. Not 10 weeks or 10 months. He's right. Then we can focus on the joy of our first grandchild. :)

The thought just occurred to naive me, I wonder if there will be a grandparenting committee.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Astonished and Blessed

I'm astonished at the voluminous and positive response lately....especially since the Nov 2 my "politicized" blog, Heart, Soul & Humor. I have been invited (and I accepted) to be a guest contributor to a top political blog. Another leading Democratic blogger wants to start a mutual dialog with me on "hot issues" as abortion and gay marriage, and calls my evangelical liberal voice one that must not be ignored by Independents and Democrats. Heart, Soul & Humor is blessed with faithful, supportive readers, including many pastors, social workers, other commentators & writers and hopefully a few friends. It's even been cached by most search engines, including Google, Yahoo, Lycos, AltaVista and DogPile.

I tell people that I had a decades-long writers' block. Truth is I had all the tools...skills, gifts, education....but nothing to say. I never felt that Deborah White had anything to teach to others. I am just a person, and it felt overwhelming and uncomfortable to impress my ideas on others. It felt wrong. So I didn't write creatively for years and years. Only business memos and stuff.

We changed churches three years ago, to one not perfectly in line with my political beliefs, but nonetheless, one where I finally felt the Holy Spirit. Finally. Then the thought came to me two years ago...indeed, it's NOT about me. It's about God using and working through me.

Since that profound thought permeated my heart, soul and busy brain, my writing has flowed nonstop. I have something to say. A whole heck of a lot to say.

My home-brewed vision of liberal evangelicalism has taken on an actiive, growing life of its own, particularly in the last six day since the election, and it's incredibly exciting! My fervent prayer is that as this ministry grows and expands in influence, I continue to make it honoring to God, and don't fall into the trap of making it about me.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Contingency Plans to Move

It's no secret that Ron and I, and both sets of our parents, are deeply saddened that George Bush was reelected to a second term as US President. See my other blog (link at left) for my thoughts on both Bush's victory and Kerry's loss.

It's one thing to have feelings and reactions. It's another thing altogether to act on them.

Ron, Andrea and I have agreed that, if George Bush reinstitutes the miitary draft, and if Andrea is eligible to be drafted, we will move out of the United States, to either Great Britain or Canada.

Bush's Middle East wars are immoral, and Andrea will neither fight nor die there.

Simple as that.

Clueless in Fatherhood?

I assumed that when I first heard that I would be a grandmother, I would instantly feel ecstatic. I love babies, and will be thrilled and humbled to grandparent.

I got the good news last week that I will be blessed with my first grandchild next May. And I feel......worried, not terribly joyous. Incredulous. Not because I'm too young.....far from it. It's just 26 year old son, a father? My God...I'm not sure I trust him yet to babysit his 13 year old sister.

So now I have a new concern. Letting go.....not interfering and controlling the situation. No hovering.

It is stunning to imagine him as a father, and all that entails. I don't think he has a clue.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Inside Report by One Elections Pollworker

On Nov 2, I had the first-time privilege of being a precinct officer (fancy word for pollworker). I'd volunteered for many elections, but this was my first appointment by the county Registrar of Voters (ROV).

I wanted to be a pollworker for this particular election for 2 reasons: First, to honor, support and be part of the democratic process. Voting is an enormous privilege and responsibility, and people are only free when they can vote to decide the course of their government. Second, I wanted to do my part to ensure that the election in my family's corner of the world was fair. It was, indeed, fully non-partisan, and undoubtedly fair and complete.

Normal turnout, sans absentee ballots and early voting, ranges from 30 to 50%. Tuesday, our precinct turnout hovered around 80%. It was thrilling: every voter was on fire to express their opinion. The electorate was energized, and every voter was convinced that their vote mattered.

It was thrilling...and incomprehensibly exhausting. All went well. Our voter qualification lists were quite accurate and updated. Electronic voting worked perfectly. Voters were courteous, friendly and scrupulously non-partisan. Our 8-person volunteer team processed a record 1020 ballots, and about 50 provisional ballots for voters with registration problems. My task to was initially identify and qualify voters at the front door, and I assisted 569 citizens to vote in 13 hours.

A few images of Nov 2 will stay with me.....

- The Spanish-speaking woman who became a US citizen just 3 weeks ago. With the assistance of her adult daughter, she was deeply touched to cast her first ballot for the Presidency.

- The mother assisting her adult Downs-syndrome son to vote. "He follows it all on TV," she said. "He loves to vote. He insists on voting."

- The many elementary-aged children who came so that they could watch their parents vote.

- The college students who came home from campus to cast their votes.

- The innumerable families that ensured that every household member voted....mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents. (We joked that a few families were so large, that they could sway the elections.)

- Two especially elderly citizens...a man and a woman...who each struggled fragilely in on walkers, sample ballots in hand, determined to voice their opinions.

It was physically demanding work. I went 4 hours at a time without standing or stretching. We subsisted on microwaved hot dogs, chips and candy bars. My total break time was perhaps 20 minutes. My biggest concern was that, by mid-afternoon, my eyes were swollen and a bit blurry.

I haven't written about procedures and controls in place to ensure that voting is complete and accurate. It's boring, detailed stuff, although incredibly important to the voting process. I stayed until 10 PM to make sure the inspector could reconcile the ballot count. It was a kick to see summarized electronic voting results for our precinct long before the ROV, press and voting public. Current voting procedures are cumbersome, but are designed to assure all that electronic voting is safe and secure....not designed for effiiciency.

The integrity of pollworkers at our location was at the highest level, and most workers were pleasant, sociable and flexible. One woman brought new meaning to nit-picking and finger-pointing, but thank God I wasn't teamed with her.

They want me to return for future elections. Would I return? Yes, gladly. It's a great way to support our community and country. But it would be nice if voter turnout was a bit less.....