Stories from a Life I Didn't Plan

Month: August 2014


This morning as I drove to work, excitement flowed through my veins. Sounds like I had a new workout routine, but actually it was the relief that today I didn’t have to look for street parking. At my school, we have a nearly non-existent parking lot. So, most of the employees scour the streets looking for available curb space between resident vehicles and trash receptacles.

Not being a morning person, I do not arrive an hour and a half before the 8:00 bell to begin my day. So, for this sluggish morning person, I was heady with expectation, knowing that for once I didn’t have to worry about parking because I was awarded the favor of parking in the special, reserved spot this week. Because of the Labor Day holiday on Monday, my days in the parking lot were already one shorter than the average work week, but I just reminded myself that I wouldn’t need a place to park on Monday anyway and tried to look on the bright side.

So, as I gleefully pulled into the parking lot, the warm expectation pulsing through my veins turned to ice water in a split second when I noticed that it looked like someone was parking in the reserved spot. Incredulous that this could actually be happening, I pulled through the lot to confirm that someone else had indeed parked in the spot that was supposed to have been reserved for me. Crushed expectations can really impact a day or a year or a decade or two.

Needless to say, it took a little while to readjust. Not only were my regular curbside spots taken, but the streets were already so crowded that I had to park on a neighboring street. Frustration and utter disappointment cannot begin to express how I felt.

I work with a wonderful group of people and I know the person who parked in my spot did not do it maliciously. In fact, there is not a person on my staff that I believe would deprive another of the special spot on purpose. Someone just didn’t get the memo. It wasn’t personal on either side, but I it still meant unmet expectation and disappointment.

Sure. Just get over it. Easy. But, wow. Not so fast! Wouldn’t that have been nice if it had ended there.

The person who parked in my spot was quickly cannibalized by other staff members for parking in the reserved spot, so the car was soon moved. During my lunch, I noticed the spot was vacant. Thinking there was no time like the present, I decided to drive my car around the block and into my spot-for-the-not-quite-a-week. Only, and you know what is coming, it was taken again. However, the (new) person who had parked in the spot was still at the car and graciously moved the vehicle so I could pull in.

And I was grateful.

Tomorrow when I  drive to school, I will do so with adjusted expectations.  I have much bigger expectations for myself, my friends, my family, my students and my colleagues than I focused on today. And if I keep my big expectations clearly in mind, then where I park cannot again make or break my day.



When spoken, this word evokes feelings as diverse as each family. In some people, they feel a sense of belonging and community. For others, something entirely different and not at all pleasant.

Along my journey in life, that word family has engendered different feelings in me, too. When I was around 13, embarrassment was probably the keenest sentiment I experienced. But today, I would have to say pride and joy in belonging ring most true.

My parents both retired early. And, although stories abound recounting the boredom of retirement, I have been amazed at how my parents have found new interests and have pursued them with passion and commitment. To my astonishment, their new pursuits have forced them to learn how to use newer technologies, including how to Skype, text on a cell phone and research safely using the internet. Their continued adventures into new and complicated fields inspires and reminds me once again how much I want to be exactly like them when I grow up.

In fact, today, my mom is one of my greatest heroes. When what we had hoped for turned hopeless recently and I was losing sleep, she said, “I just can’t give up.” So with the fearless tenacity I have seen in her countless times over the course of my life, my mother perseveres in the face of hopelessness with indomitable heart.

No matter what has happened, what is happening right now, or what might happen in the future, I know my mom loves me, my sisters, and her grandchildren with relentless, fearless love.

So for me, probably the most precious word I know is family.

Best of Friends Forever

Best of Friends Forever

Over the course of a lifetime various people pass into our lives and right back out, while others come in and go on to other place without leaving us. These become our best of friends forever; the people you can pick up the phone to talk to or meet face to face after years of not even being in the same time zone and they are still that same friend as though you spoke just minutes before. They may have a few more wrinkles or pounds, children or grandchildren, but they are the same precious, unwavering friend you remember.

Gratefully, I have numerous such people in my life. No two are exactly the same, which gives life flavor and richness. But, all are precious and add something different to my life.

Upon recently receiving potentially devastating news, I called a friend of mine who cried with me as I cried. After my tears dried, and I began to move forward, I paused and stood next to another friend simply to absorb strength and a sense of calm. Another friend texted me to check in, gave me a kind, listening ear and some straightforward, but encouraging advice. Each friend is unique and succeeds in mending a different place in my wounded heart.

So, although parts of my heart are crushed and feel like they may never be whole again, there are these other places where my precious family and friends dwell. By their very presence deep in my heart, they bring joy, laughter, and hope for better times ahead making me infinitely grateful for my best of friends forever.

Let Them Be

One evening after a musical presentation near the end of a recent school year, I was chatting with parents of my young students. In conversation with one mom who works in a very impressive, high power field, she mentioned how happy she was that her extremely bright son was integrated with the rest of the class, instead of segregated as he had been the year before. Not understanding exactly what she meant, I was slightly confused when she stated, “You seem to let them be who they are.”

With her and her husband looking on, I burst out laughing. “Who else would I expect them to be? The world only needs one of me.” However, I suspected I knew what they meant. In a time when data is more important than individuality, creativity or innovation, there is an expectation that students produce the same final product. In fact, I am supposed to provide a model for them to pattern after. However, my developmental-social cognitive philosophy prevents me from rigidly adhering to such a strictly behaviorist approach to learning and more than once accepted an alternate assignment from this parent’s intelligent young son.

I am not so arrogant to think my students cannot come up with a more interesting story or captivating idea than I can. In reality, one of the things I love about teaching is that I get to read ideas from many different people who haven’t yet learned to believe that their ideas will never work. Their imagination is not yet jaded and the confidence in doing the impossible is not yet pricked.

So yes, I try to let them be who they are and they in turn, let me be who I am—and that is a pretty fabulous arrangement.

Joy in the Journey

Up until recently my commute, although not nearly as stressful as others in the San Francisco Bay Area, could sometimes be frustrating after a long, stressful day at work. I find myself impatient and irritable by the various impediments or slowdowns, whether they come in the form of inopportune pedestrians or slowly driving cars. Occasionally, however, vignettes of life penetrate my perturbation and remind me of the joy in living.

Once after an irritating day with too many tasks to complete in too little time and too little appreciation received when completed exceptionally, I found my irritation rising when forced to stop mid-street for an elderly pedestrian accompanying a small child on a tiny bicycle with training wheels. Although initially piqued by this time-stopping delay, as I watched their measured progress across the wide street, I suddenly found myself thinking fondly of years before when I learned to ride a bicycle. In that moment, a lengthy delay morphed into a moment of wonder as I shared the history-making experience of a youngster learning the delight of self-propelled wheeled motion. Transformed by serendipity.

The next day, I left work a little earlier than customary and after stopping by my favorite eating place—a place where, Nick, the young man who makes my coffee and toasts my bread, knows my name, and the fare is organic and fresh—I found myself in the thick of commute traffic that was nearly stock still. To avoid the overwhelming stress of brake and accelerate traffic, I opted for a circuitous route that took me twice as long as the normal course would have, but with far fewer vehicles to compete.

As I found myself at an extremely long red light waiting to turn left on a major street, the melody of a popular song booming from the car next door penetrated my simmering irritability at the tedious length of the light. Turning to look at the vehicle, I was surprised and utterly amused to find a 40-, or perhaps early 50-, something singing and grooving along with the music. I struggled to maintain my deadpan gaze and to not gawk at the free entertainment, but could scarcely keep from rubbernecking all the same. To my chagrin, my fellow commuter’s green light came first. Though I lost my entertaining spectacle, I gained freedom to enjoy my ill-concealed mirth.

For that brief moment, it was almost as though I were looking into a mirror. Considering how many times I have boosted the sound on the radio, allowing a favorite or apropos tune to drown out clamoring thoughts from the day that were loath to be otherwise silenced, I realized that though I might be alone in my car, I was not alone in the effort to leave drudgery behind by choosing to revel in a spontaneous celebration of the miracle of being alive.

My Hijacked Life

My Hijacked Life

My hijacked life doesn’t look like I expected it would. As a little girl, all kinds of people conditioned me with ideas and dreams about what life would be like when I grew up; when I become a woman. Little did I know that I would never become a woman, at least not in the way idealized by many of my mother’s generation.

Although I went through the requisite pubescent transformation, I never became a mother. In fact, I have never become many of the things everyone told me or expected of me: a lover, a mother or a caregiver. In fact, in some ways I feel as though my life has been hijacked.

I always thought I was doing something worthwhile in teaching and becoming a missionary and I believed while I pursued those worthy vocations that perhaps I would meet a man with similar interests and life paths and we would continue on pursing those worthy vocations together. As the years went by, the dream of children in that equation faded as it inevitably does, but oddly enough the anticipated find a potential mate has yet to be realized.

The Continuation of My Hijacked Life

Finally in the summer of 2015, spurred to action by my desire to be a parent I decided to investigate local foster family agencies and to attend classes for future foster parents. I had explored foster to adopt at other times and in other places, but the timing had always been wrong. This particular summer, just as I had completed all but one of the required training courses through the Bill Wilson Center and was preparing to submit my application to become a foster parent, I was diagnosed with cancer. Those plans to finally become a parent were immediately derailed and once again, I felt the crushing weight of disappointment in my hijacked life.

It seems like there is always another surprise on the way. Unexpected disappointments can crush and break, but one can rise up in brokenness with anticipation and faith that life is still good, even when it seems like our hopes and dreams have been hijacked.


My Hijacked Life

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