One More Lesson From Jim Willis

Last month a significant figure from my life passed away. His name was Jim Willis. Jim was an English teacher at Granada High School in Livermore California, and for a short stint, 1981 to 1985, he and his wife Claudia were youth ministers at St. Charles Catholic Church. I was one of Jim’s many students at Granada and was also one of the lucky few that benefitted from his spiritual teachings at St. Charles Youth Ministry.

As my English teacher Jim fostered my love of the written word and as my youth minister Jim paved my spiritual path. He was so good at these things that I left the Church many years ago. Even now I can see him rolling his eyes at my bad joke but using the writing and critical thinking skills he taught me, maybe I can explain why I believe this is a good thing.

My reasons for leaving the Catholic Church were many but not overly dramatic. The bottom line is that I never really understood why believing in Christ, the Resurrection and the Eucharist made me a better person. I spent the next several years exploring other aspects of spirituality. I stopped traditional Christian prayer and adopted a meditation practice. I learned the importance of gratitude and staying mindful. I started to see that these were the things that Jesus was all about and the traditional Christian way of presenting them simply didn’t work for me. I got to this place thanks to the very freedom of thought promoted by Jim Willis himself.

The Jim’s Celebration Liturgy was my first time back in a Catholic church in years. Over the years I had attended the occasional Catholic wedding or funeral but never fully participated. This time, because it was for Jim, I made a conscious decision to embrace every aspect of the service. I listened to every word said by Father Mark. One of the things he said was that Jim Willis had one more thing to teach us all that day. In my case, Jim Willis helped me let go.

Sitting in the church I grew up in, surrounded by old friends and so many familiar faces from the past, the lingering guilt I carried around for years, that I no longer believed in the traditional Christian doctrine, seemed to vanish once and for all. I felt so at home sitting in St. Charles yet at the same time I was happy I had left and if I never return I would be fine with that too. I stayed present for the entire mass and for the first time ever in my life, gave it my full attention. I recited the prayers meaningfully, I sang joyfully and I received communion sincerely. Only by leaving the church and finding my own brand of spirituality would I be able to return to mass and have such an experience.

Does this mean I will be returning to Church? God no! I don’t need to go back. I felt like I had the experience that God intended for that moment. It’s something I will always remember and the impact will stay with me.

As I left I thanked Father Mark. Usually the priest is untouchable after mass, surrounded by people who want to talk to him. But for this brief moment he was not. He looked right at me as I walked past so I took his hand and told him I grew up in the church and hadn’t been back for years. He said, “Welcome home.” I smiled, feeling like the prodigal son and as they say at the end of every Catholic mass, I walked out in peace in love to serve the Lord…in my own way.

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The Eclipse

We left Ft. Collins at 4am. Our destination was Glendo, Wyoming, a small town on the path of totality for the Total Solar Eclipse. There were a lot of cars on the road but traffic moved pretty steadily. We got to Glendo around 6am and the line of cars into the town were backed up for about a mile on the freeway. We kept going, thinking there would be another exit into the town but no. About 5 miles later we arrived in Douglas and parked at a very crowded rest stop. It was where we decided to stay and see the eclipse. We spent the next five hours walking around, chatting with our fellow eclipse viewers (there were TONS of people there and they couldn’t have been nicer), napping in the car and eating the snacks we had packed the day before.

The great thing about this rest stop were the fields all around. We headed out to them about 20 minutes before totality. We looked up with our special glasses as the sun became a sliver of light. You could tell, as totality approached, that it was getting darker, it was like late afternoon before sunset. And then suddenly darkness approached very rapidly. When we turned our backs to the sun we saw the shadow approaching. It was wild! The sky was dark and you could see stars. Because of all the fields we were surrounded by a clear horizon that was orange then bright pink. It was beautiful and awesome and so very difficult to explain.

The reaction of the people all around us was cool and added to the moment. People were yelling in amazement. I was crying and laughing with joy. We were in a collective of wonderment.

It was dark for about 2 minutes and then the sunlight began to come back. That was when I wanted to look but of course you couldn’t. Before that the sun was like a black disc with a bright circle of light around it. When the light came back I felt this intense joy, I wanted to see it and be part of it but I couldn’t.

I like that this eclipse went from coast to coast. I like that it shined on red states. I like that people came from all over to see this, people who were curious and loved science. I loved seeing all the telescopes and equipment. I love that the sky went dark but like hope the light came back and it was more beautiful than ever. I like to think this is a turning point for America. I like to think of the eclipse as shinning light on those in the darkness. We will come back to our brilliance just like the sun. I love that the eclipse gave me hope.

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Woke. Literally.

We stayed up late to watch the Senate vote on healthcare last night. It was 1:30am back east but only 10:30pm here. Still I was ready to settle down with my wine and book when Jerry called out, “History is being made.” I came out to the living room to see John McCain talking to a group of Democratic Senators, including Diane Feinstein. They were smiling and McCain hugged Diane. Twenty minutes later McCain cast the deciding “No” vote which killed the “skinny bill” that was intended to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

All across the country people were watching this. Millions of people who depend on ACA, people with chronic diseases, people with Cancer, people with disabled and sick children, have been in a state of anxiety for months while the Republicans in Congress has been trying to take this away. Republicans have been promising their constituents for 7 years that they are going to “repeal and replace” Obamacare. The problem is now that they have full control of the Congress and Presidency they do not have a sufficient plan to replace it with. They’ve have 7 years to come up with a free-market plan that will give Americans access to affordable healthcare and they never did that. How can people be so stupid?

That we were up late watching a Senate vote, not some reality show or sporting event, says something about what is happening in the country. That sense that I get when I feel like “everything is going to be OK,” that’s what happened last night. Americans are woke, literally woke last night, and we are going to take back our country. Trump will not last a full term and he will not destroy this country. We won’t let him.

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Alternate Reality

What if the tables were turned? What if, instead of the Republican ticket, Trump somehow ended up running as a Democrat? He still could have appealed to the populist vote by promising to make things better with jobs and improving inner cities. Instead of a giant border wall and repealing Obamacare he could have promised free healthcare and free education, like Bernie Sanders only with no plan to back it up.

In my alternate reality Trump is running against Mitt Romney. The Russians are still interfering in the election but instead it’s registered Democrats getting fake news about Mitt Romney in their Facebook feed from ultra-liberal new sites.

In this alternate reality would you have been duped into voting for Trump? I’d like to say I wouldn’t. I’d like to say I’d still be able to see that Trump is a lying con-man. However would I have been able to plug my nose and cast a vote for Mitt Romney instead? It’s an interesting question. When I look at it from this perspective it helps me understand what may have been going through people’s minds last year.

What do you think?

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Waiting

I’ve been waiting for Donald Trump to go away for a long time. He used to be like an annoying gnat. I would see his picture on the front page of The Enquirer or on television and I could easily brush him away by not reading the paper and turning the TV off. I would hear him on Howard Stern and listen with mild interest for a few minutes and then turn the radio off. I remember watching a few episodes of The Apprentice during the first season but eventually I stopped. After a long stressful day at work, why would I want to spend more time watching people stab each other in the back and stress about deadlines?

Years ago, when Donald Trump started running for president but never made it past the primaries, I’d roll my eyes and figure it was all a publicity stunt. When he started in on Barrack Obama producing his birth certificate I decided that Donald Trump had finally gone off the deep end. Why would anyone take him seriously?

When he won the Republican nomination last summer I was actually kind of relieved. At last we would finally be rid of Donald Trump. He would be running against the political powerhouse that is Hillary Clinton, there’s no way he would win. I watched the drama of the 2016 election with a level of interest I had never had before. Donald Trump was so obviously a corrupted liar and his campaign promises were absurd. (A giant wall? Seriously?) If I could see this, surely the rest of America would. By November 9th we would be done with him forever. Unfortunately we all know what happened next.

Fast forward to April 2017 and I am still waiting for Donald Trump to go away. It will happen eventually. The question is when. As we see the Russian voting hack investigations heating up in the Senate, Congress and most importantly the FBI, he may go away sooner rather than later. If not, our next chance may be sometime after the 2018 election. If many of the “party before country” Republicans are voted out we may get a congress who is motivated to do the right thing and impeach. If not, we have to wait even longer and vote him out in the 2020 presidential election.

The thing I keep telling myself is he will go away. I just have to wait. Unfortunately it’s the waiting and uncertainty that is killing me.

Every day I obsessively check Twitter. I fall down the rabbit hole of writers like Louise Mensch and John Schindler who have been blogging about the “Trump Russia” scandal for months and Claude Taylor, a former White House staffer with inside sources. Every few days they’ll Tweet out some prediction and assure us we will see justice “soon.” The comments on these threads echo the same anticipation I feel. A lot of people say things like “I feel like a kid waiting for Christmas” which got me thinking.

I remember the anticipation of waiting for Christmas when I was a kid. Sometimes the wait for Christmas was joyful. Other times…not so much. By the time I hit age 8 or 9 I came to the realization that I didn’t always get what I wanted, so the wait was always filled with uncertainty. Christmas Eve was not a peaceful night for me. Instead I would instead lie awake the entire night feeling stressed and helpless.

Eventually I learned to plan ahead. Knowing I would be up all night anyway, I decided to make it productive. I armed myself with a flashlight, my favorite books, and a deck of cards so I could stay up all night reading and playing solitaire. Eventually my brothers, who were also lying awake in uncertainty, would join me and we would spend hours playing Old Maid, Go Fish and a few rounds of Shoots and Ladders.

Now that we are adults, my brothers often bring up those nights as one of their fondest Christmas memories. We rarely remember the gifts we got, but we do remember how we made waiting fun. In many ways, the waiting was better than Christmas morning itself.

Now I’m in an adult version of stressful waiting. I’m waiting for Donald Trump to go away and it’s a time of big uncertainty. I don’t know when it will happen and I don’t know what he will do to the country in the meantime. Things like this, things I cannot control stress me out. While this isn’t exactly the same as waiting for Christmas morning I can still do the same thing I did when I was 9. I can give myself things to do during the wait.

Instead of obsessively checking Twitter and blogs and news sites waiting for the next shoe to drop on the Russia investigation I should be concentrating on my work as a paralegal. As a legal professional, my job is all about holding people accountable. Since lack of accountability at the highest levels of our government and businesses is the core of what has us all pulling our hair out now, I’m happy to do what I can to promote accountability in my own world. It only takes a spark to start forest fire and it makes what I do during the wait, more important than what I’m waiting for.

Instead of wringing my hands about our dysfunctional congress, I can instead write letters telling them how I feel. Writing gets my fears out of my head and puts them on the page, it’s what I do to make the crazy go away. Sending those fears to someone who can actually do something about them makes what I do during the wait more important than what I’m waiting for.

Instead of stressing day in and day out about the potential destruction of our country, I can instead spend 20 minutes doing mindfulness meditation to help me stay in the moment. Staying in the moment helps me with so many things, not the least of which is being less stressed which makes me and others around me much happier. Staying calm and happy around other people makes what I do during the wait more important than what I’m waiting for.

I really, REALLY want Donald Trump to go away. I know it will happen eventually, I just don’t know when or how so all I can do is wait. What I do during the wait is way more important.

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Destruction of the Temple

I’ve made no secret about the fact that I’m extremely concerned about the political state of our nation. We’re living in very uncertain times and it’s stressful to say the least. In an effort to stay positive and reinforce my belief that we will get through this, I’ll try anything.

Case in point, the other day I picked up a bible. I haven’t read the Bible in…I don’t know how long…15 years at least. However, the other morning I was feeling particularly distressed. I had slept fitfully the night before and faced a long, isolating work at home day. I spotted a copy of my old Good News Bible on the shelf and thought “Why not?” I opened it up and got Mark 13 where Jesus talks about the destruction of the temple.

Randomly opening the Bible is a great way to get messages from God. While I’ve read about the destruction of the temple several times before, this was the first time I finally understood it. If you haven’t read the passage, it’s not exactly a pretty picture. In this chapter Jesus talks about how horrible things will be before the second coming. There will be great suffering and fear and false prophets who will fool many people. Jesus warned that things would get even worse but advised not to give up faith. He said that while no one knows the day or hour, when the Son of Man comes we will know it.

I am not and never have been a fundamentalist. While the part in this passage about fear and false prophets certainly resonates with me right now, I do not think that Jesus was predicting any specific event. Instead I think he was teaching about faith. He was describing fear and frustration, things that a lot of Americans are going through right now, and Jesus’ point was no matter how bad things get don’t give up faith. This is a message that I really need right now.

We are surrounded by doom and gloom right now. Every day something new comes out about the president’s ties to Russia while Congress refuses to do anything about it. Regulations designed to protect our environment are lifted. Laws are passed allowing ISPs to invade our privacy. Threats to our current health care are made. However, as these things are happening glimpses of faith show through. Congress couldn’t get enough votes to pass their health care bill. Judges block the travel ban. The Senate pledges to investigate Russia when the House investigation is stymied. These things are happening because the will of the American people is strong and we don’t give up.

What we are seeing in America today is not just politics. What we are seeing is a change in consciousness. A change in consciousness is what Jesus is referring to when he talks about the second coming. The Son of Man is not an actual person with mystical powers (like people believe about Jesus). The Son of Man is all of us and the second coming can happen any time to anyone. The second coming is a shift in thinking. It’s that moment when you realize that it’s not just you and your thoughts. It’s that moment when you see that glimmer of light, powered by truth, joy and love, in yourself.

Like Jesus says about the Son of Man, when it arrives we know it. That glimmer of light is what told many of us on November 9th “something isn’t right.” That glimmer of light is what got a million women to put on pink hats and march in cities across the country on January 21st. That glimmer of light is why people around the country are crowding into town halls and demanding answers from their congressmen.

That glimmer of light is our truth, it’s what makes us love unconditionally and it is why we are here. The more of us who show our truth and continue to let our light shine, the more it will catch on. Like a single candle that powers others, the Son of Man can spread to other people. Who knows, maybe the light will jump to a politician here and there they too will have their second coming.

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The United States of Faith

Ever since the inauguration of President HeWhoShallNotBeNamed I’ve been under a lot of stress thinking about the state of our country and the world. My Facebook feed and conversations I have with friends, family and co-workers tells me I’m not alone. But as I vowed last month, I’m trying to keep a positive attitude. One of the silver linings I see as a result of having a con-man in the oval office is a wave of Americans with a newfound interest in the inner workings of our government.

The other night, after watching the latest bad news about the chaos in the White House and the ill effects this could have on our nation, I settled myself into bed. While trying to ease my mind for sleep I felt a sense of faith which, despite years of being a devote Catholic, was unlike anything I have ever felt before. It was a very deep sense of faith in the American people and the values we share. In that moment I felt in my soul that our Constitution, written and framed to protect us from dictators, would stand and in the end we would all be OK.

The next morning I carved 20 minutes out of my workday and wrote a letter to Paul Ryan. It was a very sincere letter, containing the very things I would want to say to him if I ever saw him in person:

Dear Mr. Ryan,

I write to you from California. While I am not one of your constituents, I am an American citizen who is extremely concerned about the preservation of our democracy and Constitution. I therefore ask that you please support all efforts to form an independent investigation of the current administration and their potential ties to Russia.

Mr. Ryan, the good people of Wisconsin voted for you to SERVE not only their interests, but the interests of this nation. As a fellow gen-Xer who, like you, grew up during the Reagan years I am baffled by your lack of engagement on this issue of Russia and their potential ties to our president. We need to know the truth of what is happening.

We need leaders such as yourself to put the interests of the Republican party aside and stand up for the best interests of the American people. Listen to your heart Mr. Ryan. Do what’s right. We are depending on you sir.

Sincerely,

Karen Jessop

Castro Valley, California

The next day I wrote a letter to Jason Chaffetz. A lot about Jason Chaffetz makes me extremely ragey but I was able to put those feeling aside to also appeal to what I hope is his human side:

Dear Mr. Chaffetz,

I write to you from California, as a fellow gen-Xer (Granada High in Livermore, class of ’85!) and a concerned American citizen. I am asking you to please support all efforts to form an independent investigation of the current administration and their potential ties to Russia.

Our country is in the midst of a crisis Mr. Chaffetz. You know this and as Chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee you have a responsibility to get to the bottom of our current president’s ties to Russia. Your current refusal to do so has me baffled. You took an OATH sir. You took an oath to uphold the Constitution and preserve American democracy. Why are you not doing this?

We need you to be a leader Mr. Chaffetz. We need you to put the interests of the Republican party aside and stand up for the best interests of the American people. Listen to your heart Mr. Chaffetz and look into the eyes of your children. They deserve a father who is courageous enough to stand up and do what he knows is right. They deserve a father who is on the right side of history. They deserve a father who knows what it means to be an American. Stand up Mr. Chaffetz and be the American we all need you to be.

Sincerely,

Karen Jessop

Castro Valley, California

I was able to send Paul Ryan his letter though email. Jason Chaffetz will not accept email from people outside his district (another thing about him that makes me mad) so I had to print the letter out and mail it by hand. Will either of these congressmen even see these? Of course not. At best my letters will be one of many that may be a momentary prick on the conscience of their staffers. But more importantly, writing these letters and sending them out made me feel better. They gave me a beacon of hope and are a reminder that I am an active American who has faith in our system. And I believe that faith is what is going to get us through this.

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Romance Novels, Truth and Why I’m Pro-Choice

I was raised Catholic and taught from an early age and in the wake of Roe v. Wade, that life begins at conception. Naturally this meant that abortion was murder so of course it should be illegal. This belief influenced how I voted for the first time at 18 and later in my early 20s. I once attended a NOW meeting for a college class and found the experience extremely distasteful as the entire 2 hours was focused on pro-choice issues. To me “pro-choice” was just a euphemism for “pro-abortion” and an excuse for women to be selfish.

When I was 27 I read Heartbeat by Danielle Steel. The heroine, Adrian, is married to Steven. They are a successful couple, each with a fulfilling career, a beautiful home and a happy life. Despite the fact that they have decided to not have children, Adrian finds herself unexpectedly pregnant one day. She tells Steven and he insists that she terminate the pregnancy. She refuses so Steven leaves her. Adrian then meets Bill, the hero of the story, and the romance proceeds much in the way you would expect.

Many reading this book might see it has having a pro-life message, and a pretty common troupe for a romance novel. Danielle Steel describes her writing process as being highly focused. She spends hours each day, doing little else, and becomes hyper focused on each book she writes. I like to think this is because she pours her truth into each book. Sharing your truth with the world in a truly authentic way helps others see their own truth. However, each person’s truth looks different on the outside. The key, and this is the struggle the world faces, is learning to live with the various different faces of truth.

Danielle Steel poured her truth into Heartbeat and by doing so she helped me see mine. Instead of seeing Adrian’s husband Steven as an evil monster who wants to kill babies, I saw him as the pentacle of choice. He insisted that Adrian do what he wanted while Adrian realized she had a choice. Adrian was the one who was pregnant. Adrian was the one who felt life in her body. Adrian was the one in charge and Adrian chose to have her baby, husband or not. It was this book, Heartbeat, this book that contained Danielle Steel’s truth which on its face was saying “abortion is wrong,” this book helped me understand that being pro-choice means exactly that: choice.

I felt like I had a burden lifted when I came to this realization. It was one of the first times I can remember seeing things click together in my mind and having clarity. Helping others clear things up in their own minds is why I need to continue to write. I need to write my truth because truth makes the world a better place.

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Update on 2016

I don’t know about you but by the time George Michaels died on Christmas Day I was sick and tired of seeing people whine about how they couldn’t wait for horrible, terrible, mean old 2016 to be over. Yes, I know it was a bummer that a lot of iconic celebrities died but considering that other bad thing that happened (ie: a narcissist con-man got elected to run the highest office in the land, and just so you know my hands are clean on that one) our troubles have just begun. It’s quite possible that 2016 is going to look like a garden party by the time we hit October 2017.

In the meantime I’m trying to keep my spirits up. And while it may seem a little insensitive I’m going to gloat a bit here and tell you that 2016 wasn’t all that bad for me personally. Here are my highlights from this past year:

The year started out on a high point when I decided to do volunteer work with the Hayward Public Library Literacy Plus Program. I started with an ESL learner, a lovely young working mother who spoke Spanish and needed help reading in English. I enjoyed the time we spent together but eventually we had to stop do to scheduling issues. I was then placed with a 50-something woman who is working on getting her high school diploma. We are still together and it’s been a great experience.

In May Jerry and I took a lovely trip to Dallas Texas. Actually, the majority of our time was spent at the Video Game Museum in Frisco. But we also did some sightseeing in downtown Dallas. I also got to see my favorite author, Meg Cabot!

In July I went to the RWA National Conference in San Diego. You can read about it here. Another great thing that happened to me in July was that I got to take on some new responsibilities at work. At first I was a little sad about this because I was taking over the job of someone really great who was leaving the Company. I was also kind of scared about it. Would I do as good a job as the great person who left? But it turned out the new job is really fun and I think I’m pretty good at it, if I do say so myself.

In August Jerry took me on a wonderful trip to Europe. We spent four days in London and two days in Paris. We did have a little snafu with our luggage and spent four days in the same clothes. Also, the London portion of the trip was work related for Jerry, so not as fun for him. But I had a great time! Also did I mention that we flew Business Class?

By October I was hyper focused on the presidential election and by November completely depressed that a good portion of America had voted a con-man to the Oval Office. I’m still trying to keep an open mind about the whole thing. Who knows? Maybe Donald Trump will turn out to be a great president. OK, I know that’s a stretch. At this point I’ll settle for not getting us blown up.

My goal for 2017 is to keep a positive attitude and to keep writing. In fact my motto for the year is something I borrowed from Robyn Carr who, when she accepted her Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award at this year’s RWA Conference, said “This year let it be about the story.”

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Tales from the 101

Anyone who has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for any length of time will tell you that the commute is getting worse all the time.  Luckily I am able to carpool most of the way with my husband, Jerry.  This really helps with the westbound approach to the San Mateo Bridge.  However, once Jerry gets to his destination in Foster City I am on my own for the next five miles to my workplace in Redwood City and this leg of the trip can often take up to 30 minutes.

Alternate routes are limited and equally congested so I am stuck going through the 92 interchange to southbound 101.  The traffic is almost always bumper to bumper and the drivers I encounter on this route have made me a pessimist about the future of humanity.  Traffic may be getting bad because there are more drivers on the road but the main culprit are people on their phones.

Yesterday morning’s asshat was in an old grey Honda Accord with a cigarette in one hand and a phone in the other.  I was behind him and saw in his side mirror, his eyes looking down with an occasional break to look up and take a puff on the ole cancer stick, blowing smoke out his open window.  When he almost rear ended the work truck in front of him I thought he would be scared straight and put the phone down.  But nope, he still couldn’t stop looking and instead slowed everyone down by hardly moving at all. I finally leaned on the horn to get him moving and as an added bonus I rolled down my window and stuck my head out and yelled at the top of my voice, “GET OFF YOUR FUCKING PHONE!”

To my surprise he actually heard me and amazingly the erratic phone driving stopped. Unfortunately I also scared him out of the lane and a few yards later he merged to the left, early and over the solid line. That’s OK because I was glad to be rid of him. I need to start screaming at my fellow commuters out my rolled down window more often. It was extremely satisfying and made for a better rest of the day.

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