Be Still, Pay Attention…and Magic Happens

I get up extra early and jump out of bed. I pour myself a super hot cup of coffee, drink it, pour another. And another. Grab my Best Day Foundation t-shirt, ball cap and keys, and jump in the Jeep.

It’s one of my favorite days every year.

The beach is overcast, the picnic area is crowded with volunteers, staff members, water professionals, clipboard officials and onlookers. The participants (youth with special needs) are gathering over by the wet suits, getting their helmets and life jackets. I volunteer at Best Day every summer, so I know things will calm down soon and we’ll get our assignments, so I just stand still and take it all in, staying out of the way but where I can be seen when the time is right. The purpose of the Foundation and our being here today is to give youth with special needs their best day at the beach. It’s why I love volunteering as a “buddy.”

“Is there a buddy available?” I hear someone call out, barely audible over the chattering crowd. I look around to see where the voice is coming from and I hear it again, “Do we have an available buddy?”

A “buddy” is the volunteer who is paired with a participant on the beach that day, to stay with them and take them wherever they want to go, to cheer them on and keep them safe as they surf, paddle board, kayak, build sandcastles, and experience anything and everything available.

There she is. I spot her through the crowd, over by the registration tent. A young staff member is standing by a participant, a young man, who is all set to go have some fun. She calls out again, “Do we have any buddies available right now?” I can’t believe it. It’s as though I’m the only one who can hear her and I’m at least 20 feet and 15 people away. I catch her eye and yell, “I am! I’m available!” She smiles and I make my way over to her.

She looks relieved because she actually has another job at the event, but this sweet guy was on his way to the water when she happened to catch him. “Oh hi, this is Matthew, and he’s ready to go down to the beach now! I’m not sure where his parents are or his guardian, so would you mind standing with him for now?” I happily say, “Of course, I’m happy to do that!” I look at this magical, sweet face and say, “Hi Matthew, I’m Terri and I’ll be your buddy today. Is that ok with you?” He looks up at me and says gently and quietly, “Yes.” He smiles a beautiful, bright smile and puts his arms around my waist. I melt into bliss as I put my arms around his shoulders and feel an overwhelmingly warm feeling of love and joy. It’s done. We’re instantly forever-friends, I just know it. We let go and Matthew gives me a kiss on the cheek…yep, he’s quite the charmer.

When it’s time to pair up the buddies and participants for the day, staff member Maggie walks over with her clipboard as we head to the beach. “Hey, Terri. You good?” “Yep,” I say, “I’m all set. This is Matthew.” She winks as she sees the twinkle in my eye, and knows we’re a perfect match, then she asks, “Well, I know you don’t need any help, but would you mind if Sarah hangs out with you and Matthew? Sarah has come to volunteer today, too.”  I welcome a big hug from Sarah and say, “I’d love some help from Sarah today, thank you!”

What a great day! Sarah is a vibrant, happy adult with special needs who has shown up today to volunteer because her friend is a staff member. How blessed am I to get to spend the day playing with Matthew all day, and now Sarah too?

Soon, Matthew’s mother, Jacqui walks over and we hit it off immediately. She tells me Matthew is not too verbal, and I tell her, “He doesn’t need to be…he communicates his wit and humor perfectly with little to no words at all.” It’s true.

At one point, Jacqui looks at me with such deep appreciation and joy as she tells me she believes Matthew and I were supposed to meet today. I agree.

Matthew is first on the surf board to start the day for everyone. For the next 3 hours we go from kayaks to paddle boards, back to surf boards and boogie boards and through them all again. And again. I sign Matthew up each time, walk him to the water professional who takes him out into the sea, and I wait by the shore, cheering him on as he coasts back in. I’m in heaven. Matthew owns the beach…he is having so much fun, he’s filled with pure joy. All the kids are. Everyone can feel it.

When it’s time to leave after lunch and the award ceremony, Jacqui and I exchange numbers and she invites me to come see them sometime, maybe for lunch with Matthew and a hike. I graciously accept, and I mean it.

Matthew kisses me again on the cheek and we hug with joy and happiness like we’ll never let go.

This truly has been one of my Best Days.

P.S. Jacqui sends me a few pictures from the day, and we keep in touch. This morning my phone rings and it’s Jacqui with a very special invitation. On Saturday I’ll be going to the Alpha Resource Center’s Family Picnic as a member of Matthew’s family. I have a feeling I’ll be sharing more hugs and kisses, and I can hardly wait.

 https://bestdayfoundation.org/

 

You Are My Old Story…and I Thank You

I didn’t think it through when I chose to take the high road during a traumatic time in my life. Ever done that? I made a promise. I’ve kept the promise. I will continue to keep the promise. I will keep the promise all-conditionally, not because I owe the person who asked me to, but because breaking the promise might hurt someone else I love very much. Seems easy enough when I put it that way, doesn’t it?

The thing we have to remember is that if we choose to go within and see our responsibility in a situation and we own it, we can also choose the path of least resistance in becoming our best self. If we choose the path of compassion for everyone involved and don’t place blame on another person even when it’s confusing and feels like we are being “wronged,” we can also choose to not share the hurtful details with someone else who might have a positive and loving relationship with this person. We can separate ourselves and respect the fact that just because our relationship with someone is toxic, it doesn’t their other relationships are negative also. It would be unfair to impose our experience on someone else. It doesn’t help anyone to interfere with a relationship that has nothing to do with us. As their relationship grows and they keep in touch, we can’t take it personally. We just have to stick to our promise and remember it was our choice from the beginning what to share and what not to share, so they don’t know what they don’t know. And isn’t that why we made the choice in the first place?

I found out this weekend there can be things that happen now, even after all these years, that catch me off guard. In that one particular moment I didn’t find it easy to keep the promise. It all came rushing back and I saw past events without the benefit of being in shock this time, as I believe I was all those years ago while it was happening. The flood of emotion was gut-wrenching and I could feel my heart breaking all over again.

How could I have known there would still be times when I would want to scream, “Are you kidding me?!?” Only for a few seconds, though. I’ve trained myself (thank God) to zoom into compassion and satisfaction within minutes of feeling hurtful thoughts. I’ve learned the practice of feeling joy in the sorrow, gratitude in the pain, peace in the chaos, and finding the light in the darkness, because I enjoy feeling good and I am certain that state of being puts more good out into the world. When we think about an experience, any experience, our brain responds as though it’s happening in the present. That’s where we get the term “the struggle is real.” I’ll confess to you that I had to sit with this one for a while before I realized the actual pain hadn’t come from this person’s actions years ago, it had come from my feelings about his actions, from my expectations not being met. I had assumed he would love me through it all as I’d loved him, that he would protect my heart and do his best to leave things in the best possible way. I’d like to think we were both doing our best with what we had and what we knew. After all, it’s about how you leave things when something is complete that really matters.

I have found the sooner I can find happiness and appreciation in all conditions, the sooner everything unfolds before me and I can see the gift in every moment. Today, two such gifts became clear to me and I was able to put this whole incident into perspective.

The first gift came to me this morning through an Instagram post by a beautiful young soul I follow. She is among other things, a talented photographer, and a prolific, authentically vulnerable writer with the capacity to love that knows no bounds. She writes, “…all these fears taking hold of us – keeping us from growing into the things that should matter most to us, out of the sane fact we once placed our hearts in the wrong hands.”

The second gift of knowledge and wisdom today came from a reminder I’d recorded months ago and it popped up on my phone at the very moment I was feeling a tiny bit of residue from this memory. What we see in ourselves and our surroundings today is a result of something we asked for, whether wanted or not, by focusing on it and believing the story we told ourselves. Life is not always easy, but the path to happiness and safety is always simple. Life is not supposed to be a struggle, and sometimes we think we have to hit rock bottom in order to learn a lesson or pay our dues. I have found this belief to be untrue. Now when I look in the mirror and don’t like what I see, I can say, “You are my old story,” and start to change whatever is not pleasing to me. The same goes for the people in my life who have come and gone. I’m very grateful for the ones from whom I’ve attracted the most pain, for they have been my greatest teachers.

I can safely say this incident from long ago has now become a good story to tell one day in order to help or entertain others, and I am healed. My promise is now delightfully effortless to keep. If and when this person from my past crosses my mind or if we should ever meet again, I can smile warmly and see him with compassion as I whisper to myself…”No worries, there is no blame here. Once upon a time I placed my heart in the wrong hands. You are my old story and I thank you for every moment of our time together.”

It’s all good.

Love always, T

I kept going. I’m still going.

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I guess if I were to put a start date to it, “GoTerriGo” came to be in January of 2014.

Recently someone I’d just met became interested in my story and he asked me, “Have you been in search of something all these years?” I grinned, shook my head and said, “No.” He looked doubtful, and replied, “Yeah, that’s what most people say when they’re searching for something.”

I immediately felt confident, appreciative, filled with excitement and a bit overwhelmed by all the experiences I’ve been blessed with along the way. I smiled so big I could feel the joy all the way from my toes and said, “That’s an interesting observation, I’ll take it into consideration.”

We finished our coffee, shook hands and went our separate ways.

As I pulled away from the coffee shop, into the parking lot and out onto the busy street, I noticed the cars around me and sent love to every driver, wondering what was on the agenda for their day. I was deeply affected by the beauty of the new grass growing in vibrant splashes of bright green on the mountains that were, just four months ago, charred to a blackened crisp by the fires in the area. I kept driving. I turned off the radio, quieted my phone and listened to the silence. 

And there it was. That familiar feeling of all the hours in the Jeep, driving more than 200,000 miles the past five years, remembering that whenever I embrace the silence and let myself “just be” that’s when the truth surfaces and the magic happens.

No, for the first time in my life I wasn’t searching for anything as I drove from place to place, volunteering, pitching in and saying yes to jobs I’d never done before, offering help to anyone who felt the need for assistance, studying human nature and truly seeing and hearing everyone I met, enjoying and learning from each holy encounter.

I was learning that I’m enough. I was practicing the love and appreciation I had for everyone I met and it quickly became my natural habit for daily living. I learned that I’ve always lived this way, but in secret. My belief that I couldn’t or “shouldn’t” live my truth was stronger than my desire to do it. I just hadn’t learned that yet. I decided to loosen the grip on my desires and expectations, and stopped being attached to the outcome. I kept going. I got up every day and started again, not over. I remembered my best feeling from the day before and that’s where I started each new day, staying as present and aware as I could. I made mistakes and eventually started seeing them as opportunities and guidance instead of something I’d done wrong. I was like a child, enjoying the present and eager for what’s next, not wanting to miss a thing, only this was a feeling I was experiencing for the first time, not remembering it from my past. My childhood wasn’t like that. I guess it’s never too late to shed the conditions, cultural beliefs and learned habits in order to uncover the inner child in all of us who never goes away, never stops yearning to play and laugh, never judges, only loves.

Soon my faith grew bigger than my fear and my beliefs rose up to match my desire to do my part and work toward the betterment of my community and make life more meaningful. My life became flooded with people, places and experiences that lifted me up higher than my limited, human brain could imagine alone. I wasn’t alone. I’ve never been alone. I kept going. I’m still going.

Love always, T

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How Changing Your Definition of “Soul Mate” Can Help You Forgive and Feel Gratitude Instead

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I found this picture and it made me laugh. It was taken many years ago during a photo shoot for new head shots in Austin, Texas and to get that “look” I was thinking of my husband. I could feel the love I had for him shooting through the camera lens as though he was standing right there.

We were together for 16 years, married for 14, and I thought we’d be together forever.

We had so much fun together. We worked well together, played well together, laughed often, hiked a lot, went camping whenever we could, enjoyed snowshoeing, and we traveled well together. I happily watched him play volleyball in Wash Park with his friends. I hung out with our friends and watched him play beach volleyball and other sports in Southern California. I made sure he always had tortillas in the house and he would slip me dollar bills to put in the tip jar at Starbucks or the red Salvation Army bucket. I married him in Colorado and followed him to Texas three weeks later when he got a promotion. When that job was complete and no longer needed, we moved to California. We worked on his resume together, and he would read lines with me for auditions. He gleefully supported my acting career and was my tried and true light and sound man during my one person show in North Hollywood. I’m not sure I could have done it without him. He could get us anywhere anytime and would drop me off backstage at The Comedy Store for my stand-up set, then park the car and walk back for the show. He always magically got us places on time, no matter what. He came to every performance of every show I ever performed. He would bring me flowers often, and would always add something specific to make the bouquet special. He loved my son and my son loved him. They were great friends, still are I suppose. They filled voids for each other and I loved watching them hang out together. His family became my family and I love them to this day.

That’s all I’m going to write about our marriage because I think those words paint a lovely picture and those are the parts worth remembering. I am grateful. I married a great man. We loved each other.

Obviously, something grew bigger in our marriage, so big in fact that it overshadowed our love for each other and we must have finally become so focused on the problem we couldn’t see the solution. Sounds so simple, doesn’t it?

Because our divorce was so shocking, so humiliating, confusing and incredibly painful for me (I can’t speak for him) I know that he is indeed my soul mate. How could I possibly feel that is my truth? Because one certain paragraph in the book Eat Pray Love, written by Elizabeth Gilbert, resonated with me so powerfully I started looking for and finding proof. Proof that neither of us did anything wrong. Proof that he didn’t mean to hurt me and I never wanted to divorce him. Proof that all of the times he asked something of me I couldn’t give and I asked something of him he didn’t have, were supposed to happen. Proof that no one is to blame in a marriage that will never end, but has instead taken a different form. It’s not over, it’s complete, and he is now married to someone else. I wish them joy and happiness whenever a memory of him pops up. We all deserve to be happy and it helps me to believe they have found it together.

In Eat Pray Love, Richard from Texas says to Liz: “People think a soul mate is your perfect fit and that’s what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that’s holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life. A true soul mate is probably the most important person you’ll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake.”

Like the book says, I do believe my ex-husband’s purpose in my life was to shake me up, drive me out of that marriage I needed to leave, tear apart my ego, show me my obstacles and addictions, break my heart open so new light could get in, bring me to such a deep feeling of despair that I had to transform my life, then he was to introduce me to my spiritual path and leave. “That was his job, and he did it great…” For all he did and all he is, I am grateful.

For all I am now and all I continue to become, I am grateful. So very grateful.

I’m sharing this realization with you, my dear reader, because it gave me so much relief and freedom, I began to see changes in all areas of my life. I know there is no room for blame in life, no judgment of others, only curiosity and appreciation. We’re not here to understand each other, we’re here instead to accept others, to love everyone we meet and to be excited about what we learn from each interaction…whether it lasts an hour, a day, or a lifetime.

Love always, T

Under the Influence

I couldn’t imagine living through what was happening.

Well, I knew I would live through it, I just couldn’t imagine what life was going to look like or how I was going to keep going. This wasn’t my plan! I thought I had it all figured out, then life took a turn and I wasn’t prepared. Deep in my heart I knew I was being watched over, protected and guided. So I surrendered and released it all. I knew I couldn’t do it alone. I handed it all over to God with one request.

Use me. Use this. Put me where you want me and guide me to be the very best example of love, strength, faith, and kindness I can be. Please let my light shine from within.

For the next 20 years, I told the best story I could about everyone involved and I practiced forgiveness. I forgave myself. I forgave them. I described a situation where, although it was devastating, those involved didn’t know what they didn’t know, and they did it all out of love. That was my story and I’m still sticking to it.

I grew up in a house where it was commonplace to live two lives. The one everyone sees and the one that goes on at home, behind closed doors, when you are all alone. When I was a child, my mother told me the question, “How are you?” is always rhetorical, no one cares, and no one ever wants to know the truth (I think this also is where I learned to use absolutes.) She said I should just smile and say, “Fine, thank you.” This didn’t make sense to me because when I asked how someone was doing, I meant it. Still do. In any case, the habit of saying, “Fine, thank you” while dying inside helped me to survive. Barely.

When it happened I felt completely blindsided, unloved, unwanted and unworthy. Childhood and teenage beliefs of my being in the way and useless were triggered. I left Texas on a wing and a prayer, fueled by ignorance peppered with courage, and I had a plan. What is important to say here is there is no room in a happy, meaningful life for blame or negative feelings. I know it was my perception of what was said and done that influenced my actions. It’s not what others say or do in life that matters, it’s how we feel about what others say or do.

I gave my washer/dryer to my mother. I donated all of my furniture, linens, dishes and cookware to the church. I loaded up my Chevy Blazer with what I had left. The important stuff. Family photos, books, 10 copies of my resume, a stereo and a microwave (it was the nineties.) I had no home, no job, and only $1,000 cash that my mother convinced me to tape to my stomach so it didn’t get stolen while I was on the road. She might not know me very well, but she does know I can’t stop myself from making eye contact with strangers at gas stations and soulfully asking, “How are you?” I’m pretty sure I’ve always seen the value in human connection, in truly seeing and hearing everyone I meet.

I drove to Denver and within two months I had a job at Janus Funds. Within a year I was promoted to assisting the Executive Vice President and began traveling across the United States with the Marketing Department as an Event Specialist. My boss always made it easy for me to fly through Texas (Hint: this will be important later in the story) to visit the person who matters most in my life. I spent every cent I made and every minute of vacation traveling through Texas. I couldn’t stand being alone during waking hours with nothing to do because my heart was broken and I had issues to ignore, so I began taking acting lessons at The Denver Center for Performing Arts. On the advice of my instructor, I got a headshot and started acting in Denver. I married someone and we got transferred to Austin where I pursued acting and teaching classes with incredibly talented actors at Alleywood Studios. There I was in Texas, scared, hurting and confused for three years before moving to Los Angeles. I lived in California for 13 years, acting and writing while again spending all my free time and money visiting Texas. I was also honored to work in the West Coast Office of The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees for many years with union professionals I respect and to whom I am grateful for trusting me with promotions and duties I had no idea I was capable of handling. One of these duties had me traveling the United States and Canada every six months and whenever I could, I flew through Texas. The entire time this was going on I was afraid something would happen, I would let my guard down, and someone would find me curled up in the corner of my office wearing a business suit and crying my eyes out.

I moved some more, got other jobs, became divorced and learned how to survive, all the time traveling forward. Always moving onward, growing, learning, making mistakes, making amends, finding the good, seeing the joy, being grateful and very often traveling through Texas. What I couldn’t understand for those 20 years was if I had forgiven, why was I still in so much pain every single minute of every day?

Two years ago I became overwhelmed with a “knowing” that it was time to overcome my worst wounds and move to Texas for a while. I’d tried this once in 2012, it fell through, I was devastated and told myself I’d dodged a bullet. This time my intuition was strongly telling me something was about to happen with my family and I trusted my faith to be bigger than my fear. Again.

Having that trust brought me an answer to the question I’d wondered for so long and that is what I’m sharing with you. As mentioned previously, I’d forgiven everyone, but I was obsessed all those years with wondering “how someone could do that to someone else.” Does that mean I hadn’t truly forgiven? Nope. It means I had forgiven all, but wondering how they could have done it in the first place means I hadn’t released judgment. There is a difference. Holding onto that judgment without even realizing it, was only hurting me all those years, not them. So when I saw it, I let it go. I let it all go, and it looks like I had to once again “go through Texas” to do it. To heal. Once and for all.

What happened years ago doesn’t matter, that’s why I’m not divulging the details. It was an incident then (according to Elizabeth Gilbert’s description) and now it’s a story. I no longer remember the pain, I only remember the wisdom.

We are always under the influence of something or someone. Next time you have a decision to make, ask yourself if you are under the influence of what your inner self knows to be true, or the influence of what others might think. Trust yourself even when it doesn’t make sense to anyone else.

Love always, T

 

My Thanks to Neal McCoy…and to the Guys in the Band (Becky too)

Sometimes, for the sake of delivering on a promise made, you might have to risk looking like a groupie, an awkward fan, and yes…even a stalker.

It’s a hot day. It’s my third year volunteering at William Shatner’s Hollywood Charity Horse Show in Burbank, California. I show up really early because I’m excited to be reunited with my fellow volunteers from the previous two years, and I know that Neal McCoy is performing tonight. I want to say hello before my shift begins, parking cars. Neal McCoy is an American country music singer who has released 10 studio albums, 34 singles, numerous platinum and gold albums, he’s been on USO tours, and currently tours the U.S. with the best band ever. He’s everywhere. And he’s a friend of mine.

I check in and get my t-shirt, walk into the restroom for a pit stop and to change clothes. In the stall next to me I can hear someone on the phone. I try to be quiet, and then without thinking…I flush. Oh no! I jump out of my stall and stand ready to apologize to my bathroom buddy while tucking in my shirt as she opens her stall door, still talking on the phone. I mouth to her, “I’m so sorry I flushed!” She laughs, quickly says goodbye to her son and tells me not to worry about it at all. She then tells me about another time she was in the restroom when her phone rang and it was an important celebrity she had been trying to reach for a charity request, so she had to answer. We laugh, hug (after washing our hands) and introduce ourselves.

My new friend’s name is Sue. Sue Quick. And she is about as big as a minute so her name fits. She stands just under 5 feet tall (I’m guessing) and I can tell she’s a horse lover, she just has that heart, ya know? She also has beautiful silver hair that appears to be in the same stage of growing back as my mother’s. My observation is confirmed when she tells me that like my mom, she too has undergone recent chemo treatments and will soon be traveling back to her home state for another round. She wants to “stick around” to have more time with her sons, so the chemo is worth it to her. She tells me with tears in her eyes and a childlike grin that tonight is important to her because it might be her last time to volunteer with this event. She is filled with joy and her inner light radiates like the sun.

Now back to that important restroom “stall call.”

Sue tells me she was talking to her son because he loves Neal McCoy and when she told him Neal was performing he said, “Awww! How cool, Mom! Wish I could get an autograph!” Hmmm…my wheels start turning. I tell Sue that Neal is one of the friendliest, most personable guys in the business, and if I can find a way to get her son an autograph I’d be happy to do that. Sue lights UP. She says that would mean the world to her son and she thanks me in advance, saying not to worry if it is too much trouble. Psssshhhh…trouble? I’ll just ask him! Now I’m on a mission…

Before heading out to the hot and dirty parking lot (my favorite assignment) and to check in with my friends who are on the same shift, I send a text to Neal. He answers right away and says to come by the stage to say hello at 6pm, he’ll be there for sound check. I tell him I’ll do that and I also mention the autograph I’d like to get for Sue’s son if he doesn’t mind signing something. He doesn’t hesitate, responds immediately with a text to say he’d be happy to sign an autograph. I knew it! Best guy EVER. I can hardly wait to see Sue’s face when I hand over this gift for her son, whose name is Ben.

Here’s where it gets screwy and my heart jumps way ahead of my brain having any thoughts of what others might think of me or how foolish and creepy I might appear. For the first time in my many years of volunteering, I feel the need to leave as soon as my shift ends because I’m hoping to get home as soon as possible. I’ve been staying with a dear friend and things haven’t been going well between us. I’m not sure why and it is very important to me to do whatever I can to mend our friendship before I leave California and drive to Texas in a couple of days.

At one point during my shift in the parking lot, I am asked to report to the volunteer tent to help with another assignment. While I’m there, I run into Neal and he mentions that Les might have a headshot in the bus that we can give to Sue with an autograph for her son. This is turning out to be so easy! Thank ya, Lord! So…where is Les? How do I get the photo without being too pushy? Neal asks if I’m staying for the dinner, I say no, he generously insists I sit at one of his tables with his son Swayde and other family members, Kirbie and Colleen. I start to sweat. I don’t want to say no, but I need to get home and more than that I need that photo for Sue because I know she’s got her hopes up. Dang. I’m honored and so happy to be invited, so I agree to stay. I can do this. Then my mind starts to wander…oh no, did he politely ask me to sit at their table because I am lurking around like a stalker, hoping Les will see me and get the autograph so I can make Sue Quick’s dream come true? Am I creeping him out like a stalker? I’m standing by the stage, totally out of place and it is so awkward, that Neal very kindly introduces me to the person he is talking to. Do I take the hint? Nope! Determined not to ask about the autograph, choosing instead to be awkwardly in the way. Great plan, Terri. Great plan.

Thinking fast, I grab a program from my seat at the table and run to the volunteer tent to grab a sharpie so I can just get Neal to sign it quickly instead of imposing on Les for the official photo from the bus. I go back to the dinner as everyone is being seated and the bar is hopping. I still have on my badge and must look very important with my program and sharpie in hand (from experience, I know to look for someone with a badge and a sharpie when you want something done at an event) because two gentlemen stop me to say it appears the table to which they’ve been assigned has no empty seats. Could I help them please? Yikes. My first rule of running a charity event: make sure the guests are happy and taken care of while you also mind the charity’s reputation with gratitude and appreciation. “Of course, I’d be happy to help, which table is yours?” They point to the one that is within earshot and the people sitting there look familiar but I can’t quite place them. Still, being between the old “rock and a hard place,” I now must figure out the situation in order to help these gentlemen. I walk up to the table and ask, “Excuse me, are all of you assigned to this table?” One of the guys looks up at me and says, “We’re the band and this plate of food is saved for Neal McCoy so he can eat before we go on.” Of course you are and of course it is and of course I want to crawl under the table, and I thank you for the information. Enjoy.

Holy crap. What’s a girl to do now? She goes into full force event mode, that’s what.

I see someone with a radio and ask him to call the person in charge and ask her to come to table 27. I go back over to the gentlemen who are still standing there and about to finish their drinks. I smile my biggest smile. I tell them it’s all being taken care of and as a matter of fact, they are sharing a table with Neal McCoy, and while we wait for him to arrive…”might I go and get you gentlemen another drink? On the house?” They accept and I dash off to the bar and politely break in line (remember I have a sharpie and paperwork in my hand so I look important) asking for “…two celebrity comp drinks, please. A Corona with lime and a gin and tonic.” When I get back to the gentlemen with their drinks, the person in charge is at the table asking what is going on. I tell her, she walks over to the gentlemen and all is well. The band is finished eating by that time and the wonderfully patient gentlemen are able to take their seats and enjoy the show. Whew!

It’s getting later and I am really thinking about my friend and how I can make things better when I get back to her house. I’m also realizing I haven’t seen Les. No photo. No Neal. No autograph for Sue Quick’s son…that can’t happen. Time to be a stalker again. I’m sitting at the table having a delightful conversation with Colleen and a gentleman I’ve just met who is sitting to my left. He introduces me to his partner of more than 20 years and their god-daughter who is just about to go to college. I am so enjoying their stories!

For a glorious half hour I forget to be in a hurry. I get right back into my comfort zone and remember that everything is always working out for the highest good of all involved. It’s all good.

The show is delayed for the best reason, as William Shatner graciously insists on working the room every year and consciously stopping at every table to intentionally meet and thank every guest for being there. Neal is walking around with him tonight and as they stop at our table, I look up and see Les standing behind them holding the autographed photo for Sue’s son, and Neal has personalized it “to Ben.” I whisper “Thank you” to Neal and give Les a big hug as they move on to the next table with sincere thanks to the fans sitting there. I rush to the volunteer tent to find Sue, but no one knows where she is. I search everywhere, finally find her sitting in a special chair, just for her, right next to the stage. She is giddy with excitement to be front and center for Neal’s show. By now guests are up and moving around, turning their seats away from the dinner table so they can watch the show. I scoot sideways, turning this way and that, taking the long way around the room and finally getting to Sue. I hand her the photo for Ben and give her a big, long, loving hug. I tell her what a pleasure it has been to volunteer with her and we exchange info so we can keep in touch.

I realize I’ve been so wound up the past few hours, parking cars, impersonating someone important, breaking into line at the bar, lying for free alcohol, stealing a sharpie out of someone’s backpack (I returned it), and stalking the band, I hadn’t had anything to eat or drink all day. As hard as I’ve been trying to get back to my friend’s house all evening, something tells me to sit down and rest a minute or two, drink some water, take a few bites of dinner before leaving. I always listen when God whispers to me like that. It’s that intuition we are all born with, and it’s never wrong.

It’s 9:30pm and I feel my phone vibrate. I look at it to see who is calling me that late, and it’s my mom calling from Texas, which means it’s 11:30pm for her. I know what this call means. I don’t catch it in time, so I get up from the table, tell Swayde I have to leave, there’s been a death in my family, it’s my step father. I step outside into the cool, breezy California air to return my mom’s call. I sit down on the steps outside, take a few deep breaths and look up at the stars. I call her back. “David died,” she says. I say, “OK. I can leave tonight.” She says there is no need to rush back, so I say I’ll leave the day after tomorrow as planned. I’m thinking that way I can get some sleep before hitting the road, and more importantly I can spend the next day with my friend, hoping we can get to a good place and I can let her know how much I care about our friendship. As life sometimes unfolds, that is another story for another time.

Sue friended me on Facebook the next morning.

Sue’s son, Ben, was very happy to get his autograph.

Most of the time, volunteering isn’t only about the assignment you are given for the event. It’s usually about being authentic and present while seeing, hearing, and appreciating the other people who are standing beside you in the dirt, sitting at your table, or talking on the phone in the bathroom stall next to you. It’s about listening to the “whisper” and doing what it tells you to do even if it doesn’t make sense. It’s about releasing all judgment and comparison, going for it, taking the risk, looking silly, being in the way, feeling awkward. It’s worth it.

There is a gift in every moment. Love always, T.

…and there she was

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THURSDAY: She sat in the doctor’s office listening as he told her mother she had an abdominal cavity filled with malignant tumors and her “cancer count” was over 4000. Holy crap.

Her mother’s options for treatment were chemo in Longview/Dallas or MD Anderson in Houston. Since her younger sister lives just outside of Houston, and has a large comfortable home with plenty of room, her mother chose MD Anderson, where she could be cared for by her daughter during treatment. OK, then. Let’s do this.

SUNDAY: She drove to her son’s house early that morning. She left her car there, and together she and her son drove in his car because it is more comfortable, to pick up her mother and the three of them drove four more hours to Houston. They unloaded her belongings and left her there to begin this next, very scary chapter of her life.

MONDAY: She drove to the small, beautiful patch of land out in the country where her mother had lived with her husband for 39 years. Someone needed to check on her mother’s husband, but did it really need to be her…? Yes, it needed to be her.

Ever since she was a teenager, she had referred to her mother’s husband by his last name because calling him anything else felt too familiar, too casual, too friendly. She just couldn’t call him anything “fatherly” or even refer to him as her step-father. It had been her perception from the start that he didn’t care for her, and she felt unwanted at his house. She felt she was in the way and was often told not to “rock the boat,” which she took as meaning she was already an unwelcomed guest in the house, and anything she did to call attention to that was awkward, even harmful,  at best.

When she was sixteen, her mother handed her fifty dollars cash and said, “Take care of your sister. I’ll be back on Monday.” She asked, “Are you going to marry him?” Her mother looked at her with all of the strength she could muster, hoping she was doing the right thing for her girls and said, “Yes, I am.” It felt like a business decision really, and soon she would come to realize she had not been included in the deal. He had agreed to focus on the woman he loved and her youngest daughter, but the oldest one would graduate from high school and be gone soon, so he would just wait that out. Again, this was her perception and it was brutal. It was painful. It was confusing. But she persevered.

She would come home from high school most Fridays to find a note saying, “Gone to Yellowdog” which meant they had gone camping, as a family, down to the river for the weekend without her. There were many other verbally abusive altercations over the years, but still her mother would insist on her sending father’s day cards and making birthday phone calls, only to have him ridicule her for either calling too late or sending a gift that didn’t measure up. But she kept trying throughout the 39 years, hoping to be loved and accepted as part of the family. It never happened.

When she arrived at his house on Monday after taking her mother to Houston, she found him sitting alone in the kitchen across from the pool table, which took up the entire living area upon entry. This pool table was another representation of hurtful memories between herself and this man she was supposed to call “Dad” but never could. She silently walked over to him and leaned against the pool table. He looked at her with tears streaming down his face. This strong, tough, “Texas proud” man sat on a barstool in front of the girl he’d been so mean to over the years, and cried. He asked how her mother was and she told him she was doing well. She gently and kindly explained what little she knew about the next steps, and promised to keep him informed. Her heart broke for him as she saw that the life had left his eyes. He was clearly scared to lose his wife. She knew he could not live without her, and together at that very moment, they silently acknowledged that.

And this girl looked at him with compassion. This girl didn’t mention the tears. This girl simply looked through the paperwork and bills that needed to be paid, and together they took care of business. She stood there, patiently handing him checks, one by one, to sign. His massive hands were curled and cramped into claws by arthritis and he could barely hold a pen, but she stood there and waited patiently as it took him at least 5-10 minutes to sign his name on each check. She would then write the information in the check register for him, seal the payment in the envelope, carefully put a stamp on the top right hand corner and put the correspondence in a stack to be mailed. Each step was important to him, and with a loving heart she did exactly as she was told.

…and there she was, on a cold December day, standing for hours in silence, the abused helping the abuser.

All was forgiven.