An unlikely reunion led me to BE the change I want to see…every day.

Sometimes you think you’re just meeting an old friend for drinks in Los Angeles and you end up in Papua New Guinea for two weeks.

I was 14 years old, a tomboy wearing cutoffs and a bikini top, standing on the scorching blacktop road and my feet were burning, blistering up. Mark was waving goodbye through the back window of his family’s car as they drove away from Shadowood Lake on a hot, summer day. He was 14 too, and we both had tears in our eyes. Mark was my best friend, my neighbor, my brother, my heart, my sounding board, my enemy when he told me things I didn’t want to hear and now he was leaving. His family was moving out of state and I would probably never see him again. This happened in the 70’s and we didn’t have cell phones or computers. We had no internet, no Facebook to keep in touch or track each other down or post photos. He was gone.

Oh well…the car was soon out of view and I realized my feet were burning so I ran to the grass and cooled them off.  Then I probably went swimming and decided to grow up the rest of the way without Mark to laugh with, cry with, fight with. I held on to happy memories of running through the woods to his house, sitting at their kitchen table for occasional meals with his parents and little brother, pretending I was part of their family too. I never forgot about him and thought about his family often, wishing them well in my prayers at bedtime.

Thirty-six years later, after marriages, children, divorces, happily remarrying again, making many moves and having several jobs, seeing hundreds of friends move in and out of our lives, we found each other again. Yep, that’s right. I got a call one day from Mark, “My son and I will be flying through Los Angeles from Nepal and we have an overnight layover. If you’re not busy…” You kidding me? I told my husband I was going to see my childhood friend and had no idea what time I’d be home because I wasn’t letting him go until I’d caught up on the entire three decades since we waved goodbye at Shadowood. He laughed and understood.

I knocked on the door of the LAX airport hotel room where Mark and his son, Matt, were staying overnight until their flight home the next morning. As soon as he opened the door and we saw each other, it was like we were 14 years old again. We hugged, we laughed, we punched each other in the arm like dudes. Mark stood well over six feet tall, and so did Matt, both still filthy dirty from their trip, and I was thrilled to be there. It was surreal. Matt was stretched out on one of the double beds, feet hanging off the end, chuckling and rolling his eyes at his father acting so giddy.

Within 10 minutes, Mark had given me the t-shirt he’d brought me from Nepal and we were  looking at photos from this amazing trip he wanted to share. I was in awe. He had just spent two weeks in Nepal building a school for underprivileged children with a group called Be The Change Volunteers. It wasn’t his first time doing this, he’d built schools in other places in the world with BTCV and I wanted to hear more. I was captivated. We’d lived so many years apart, yet our missions were the same. We wanted to help people and nothing was too big, too far, too much. I looked at him and said, “I have to do this.” He shrugged and said, “Then do it!”

And so I did. We did. When Mark got back home to Montana, he called me to follow up on my desire to begin building schools all over the world with Be The Change Volunteers. We looked at the planned trips for the year and found one in September 2012 that would work for both of us to go with the group. That was it! We were going to Papua New Guinea, and being geographically challenged, I had no idea where I had agreed to go…and it didn’t matter. I was on top of the world at the idea of going to a remote part of the world to give children hope. Nothing too big, nowhere too far, nothing was too much.

My 50th birthday was coming up and I was elated. I knew I would wake up that morning changed. My life was coming together and making sense and it was a feeling beyond description. I spread the word and in lieu of gifts, I asked for donations for my trip. Thanks to my many friends, co-workers and other loved ones, I raised the money for my trip in no time. I requested and was graciously granted the two weeks off from work, got all of my shots, checkups and malaria meds to take with me. I got hundreds of stickers for the kids, shirts to cover my shoulders and shorts to cover my knees, work boots and flip-flops, sunscreen and mosquito repellant. After three flights and an open, muggy bus ride in the pitch black of night into the jungle, I found myself watching a tribal dance, beautifully choreographed by the children of Omo as a welcome gift to us. One of the pastors of the community also welcomed us with a speech where he mentioned that God had preordained this moment and on the day each of us were born, it was decided that we would come together that night as one culture, one family, one skin color, in order to do something good in the world. To help each other and to love one another. I was transformed. I was home.

It was extremely hot and humid, we showered (sort of) with spiders as big as the palm of my hand, washed our work clothes outside in tubs and hung them on the line but they never dried. We worked hard all day building a school from the ground up, in the hot sun and through torrential downpours, and with the exception of the day my son was born 27 years prior, I had never been happier. We laughed, we cried, we sang songs and played guitar, we told stories and listened to the children tell us stories handed down from their grandparents. We colored pictures, played games and handed out stickers and small gifts to the children each night. I spent time with the ladies as they cooked three meals a day for us, helped them take the dishes to and from the kitchen hut that was yards away from the house they had built for us. By the end of the first week they were teaching me to speak their language, laughing with me as I tried to learn their ways, and lovingly christened me an honorary “PNG Lady.” I was never afraid but always aware of how remote our location was, hearing the sounds from the jungle each night, watching the geckos run up the walls of the rooms where we slept.

Many volunteers join BTCV in order to travel the world and give hope to children by building schools and actively participating in their lives. I sat there one morning with the wonderful group of volunteers in Papua New Guinea as we finished breakfast, rubbed on our sunscreen and grabbed our work gloves, ready to get to work. We were nearing the end of our stay and the school was almost finished. As the discussion turned to other places we’d like to see, I asked Jimi (he and his wife Cristi are our fearless leaders) if I could come back to Papua New Guinea. I wanted to be on “Team PNG.” This project, as planned for the community of Omo by our friend and PNG contact named Martin, is on a 10-year plan with several schools and a community center in mind. I want to be a part of that. I want to watch these children grow up and help them to be everything they want to be. I want them to look back when they are adults and have children of their own, and know that I was with them from the start and I never let go. I want them to know that I care, that nothing is too big, nowhere is too far, nothing is too much to give.

It’s been two years since my first trip and I’m going back to Papua New Guinea with Be The Change Volunteers again this year. I’ve already raised the funds for my part of the trip and it’s all set.

AND I KNOW none of this would have happened if I hadn’t lived a life of challenges and gratitude, heartaches and humor, fear and faith, friends and enemies, loneliness and loving relationships, sometimes despair but never giving up. And hope. Always hope. From waving goodbye at Shadowood Lake as teenagers, to picking up thirty-six years later as though no time had passed at all, two friends, bound by the need to help others. Can’t beat that.

“Your freckles moved while you were sleeping…”

I know a young man named Adam. Adam is a good man…the kind of man you want to be around all the time.

I’ve known Adam since the day he was born. In fact, I was in the hospital with all of his family at the moment of his birth. That MOMENT, that very moment we all realized he was here, he was real, he was healthy, he was beautiful, he was something special, and he was…HUGE. Adam weighed 11 pounds and 3.5 ounces when he was born. He was a delightfully wonderful bundle of smooth ivory skin, big blue eyes and not just red hair, but the magnetic color red that you can’t find in the Crayola box without mixing a few crayons together. He was, and is, that particular and rare kind of strong, gentle soul, to this very day.

Adam grew up in East Texas, around horses and cattle and was allergic to farm animals, so to this day he’s probably never smelled anything. His skin is fair and his dad used to say he’d “get sunburned in a picture show.” He has just the right amount of freckles on his skin and when he was four years old his mom used to tell him that while he slept, the freckles on his face would rearrange themselves, depending on whether he slept on his right or left side. When he would wake up in the morning, she would get excited and say, “Let’s go look in the mirror while you brush your teeth and see which freckles moved last night!” Laughter was a big part of his growing up, a tool his mother tried to make sure he appreciated and used often to enhance the good times and get through the times that appear more challenging.

Adam is a gifted high school teacher, a thoughtful and loving husband, a loyal and trustworthy friend, a joy to be around. He’s funny. He’s really funny. He’s the kind of funny that makes you laugh those big guffaws from your gut so that after spending an afternoon with him your stomach muscles think you did 100 sit-ups. His humor is subtle, though. You watch his wheels turning, anxiously awaiting to hear his take on the conversation or you marvel at his silence when there is just “nothing to say about that.” Babies and dogs are so drawn to him that they have to sit close and gaze up at him as though they are saying, “I like you. You get me. I’m safe with you.” His curiosity is insatiable and he can spend hours roaming the internet, touring a museum, or walking around Best Buy on a Saturday afternoon. And you want to go with him.

I’m inspired today to write about Adam because I am filled with gratitude to know him, and I want to share that with you. It’s important to shine a light on the people in our lives who stand out, who teach us the lessons we are here to learn, those who are valuable treasures to us, the ones we can’t imagine our lives without. I KNOW we need these people in our lives because they also shine the spotlight back on us, to show us what’s missing, what’s important, what to pay attention to, how to love fiercely and with abandon. Adam’s vibrant place in this world, his heart, his soul, his values, his laughter, everything he has been, is now, and will become, make him that person, that special being, that good man we all need in our lives.

I am forever grateful that among all of those other gifts, he is also…my son. This is indeed a Happy Mother’s Day. GoTerriGo!

I’m an only child. Just ask my sister.

If you asked my sister, she’d tell you I’m an only child.

That statement makes me giggle…now. Someone once said, “Family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten.” The author is unknown, but I have found this quote to be true throughout my life’s journey, so I thank that person for saying it so simply, so directly. For I have built a fortress of family, person by person and soul by soul that stretches out and hugs its global members on a daily basis. I haven’t forgotten any of you…

My mom was and is “accidentally” the best parent for whom I could have asked. Many of you who know me have heard countless stories about my mom, Babes, as we affectionately call her. She’s always been there for me. Not HERE so much, always THERE, but while I was growing up, every time I let her know I needed her, she would grab her cigarettes and settle in to give me her undivided attention. I still morph into my imitation of her, almost channeling her delightful spirit, when I have something profound to say about a situation or to lighten the burden of finding the funny in tragic or absurd experiences. Thanks, Babes.

Andre Maurois wrote in The Art of Living, “Without a family, man, alone in the world, trembles in the cold.” Maybe that’s why I’ve been blessed with finding family wherever I go. YOU CAN TOO!  I don’t want anyone feeling alone in the world, trembling in the cold, nor do I want that for myself. Maybe it’s because two of the most important people in the world to me, the two genetic family members I love more than I love myself and thought I was supposed to take care of, didn’t seem to want me in their lives as much as I wanted to be there, so I had to put all of this love inside of me somewhere. I also had a choice to make. Do I leave them alone, respect their apparent choices, lovingly give them what they asked for and wish them well? Or do I find strength and set an example of how powerful love and surrender can be? Do I turn it around and push my way into their lives anyway, love them SO BIG because that’s how I love, as though we are really living in the same home, never truly leaving their side, always a few steps away ready to jump in and rescue them from harm, only a phone call away, a flight or a drive away, and sometimes just a whisper away? Never THERE, always HERE for them? You bet! I chose the latter…

HERE’S THE FUNNY: If I could have a family photo, my sister would be one of those blank body cutouts they put as placeholders (and I would make hers really tall and skinny because she would like that). Babes would be holding a cigarette and a drink, looking in a different direction as though the photographer were standing in a different spot. It would have my son, Adam, and his family, looking right at me, lovingly. My “chocolate” family would be there, front and center (thank you Willie C., Stanley, Ray and Nate). The rest of the family would be all fabulous colors and cultures from Colorado, Texas, California, Croatia, Costa Rica, Missouri, Montana, Cleveland (hi Eileen), New York (hugs Colleen), Canada (hey Krista), London, Arizona, West Virginia, Kansas, Illinois, Papua New Guinea…and then the green grass beneath their feet would go on forever in some grand panoramic shot…leaving room for more family members yet to come. Can hardly wait to meet all of you…

What would your family photo look like? I KNOW you are building a family along your journey just as I am. I’ll bet lots of people already think of you as family and you might not even realize it. That’s a good feeling, isn’t it? That means that no matter what, you are not “…alone in the world, trembl[ing] in the cold.” Neither am I. Thank you. GoTerriGo!