Friday, December 31, 2010

A Revealing

The Orion Nebula
Photographed by the Hubbel Telescope
iPhone App,  Star Walk

Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
   to whom belong wisdom and might...
he reveals deep and hidden things;
   he knows what is in the darkness
   and the light dwells with him. 
                                             Daniel 2:20-22

Another rush to ER, another middle of the night dash for help. Desperately ill, vulnerable and exceedingly afraid. 

The things I think of with my head in a bucket. "Through his griefs, Job came to his heritage." I couldn't remember where I read it - probably a favorite devotional. Unable to remember the writer's point, it struck me that recent December morning that it's one thing to think about Job's heritage sitting in the comfort of one's favorite chair wrapped in a cozy blanket and quite another at 2:00 a.m. sitting in the middle of ER on a cold plastic chair with kind husband gently answering Admitting Nurse's questions while also seeing to it that I had another clean bucket to hurl into. Too ill to even care that my public wretching was harshing everyone's mello, I was afraid. And fear can make me amazingly stupid. 

"I am so done with this," I thought. While I'm not sure what it was that I had in mind, it did have something to do with exiting the building and leaving behind like strips of discarded snake skin all the years of cancer fight, chemo nonsense and traumatized body parts. Yep. Be a Real Man or, in my case, a Real Wo-man. "Just stand up and walk away," I thought. As I said, the things I think of with my head in a bucket. 

But it was the appearance of Nurse Cratchett with her instrument of torture, the dreaded NG tube, that snapped me back to reality and herded me to another brink of despair. "I can't bear this again. Really, I can't." And for just a moment I was sure that was the truest truth I had ever spoken. But smiling and confident (after all it wasn't HER nasal passage and throat that were about to be brutalized!) Nurse C said, "Now you will want to push me away, but remember to just keep swallowing. It will be over before you know it." She was right and she was wrong. It was over quickly but I didn't want to push her away; I wanted to shove her off a very high cliff. 

It is in the dark hours - no longer night but not yet morning - when I'm most inclined to give way to despair. Bad possibilities can sound reasonable while hope is diminished to wishful thinking. It was the dark hours of my second day when I began to replay my medical team's latest findings. Set on Replay, I heard over and over "A new lesion in a new area;" "We suspect a new malignancy but can't see the area well enough to be sure;" "More tests are needed;" "Given your history, Mrs. Guerino, we have concerns." Given your history...given your history...given your history. Oh to be a Real Wo-man and just get up and walk away. Constricted by uncomfortable tubes down my throat, crying was not an option. Nevertheless, hot tears began to chase each other down both sides of my face pooling near the back of my head.  Never have I felt so alone. How, I cried to God, does authentic faith survive to the morning?

Perhaps that answer depends upon what it is one has faith in. One's self? One's medical team? One's medicines? Or perhaps faith in a perceived right: A right to not suffer, to not be alone, to continually enjoy comfort and health.

One of my favorite apps on my iPhone lets me point to the sky (or ground) and view the constellations and stars in real time. The photo above came from "The Picture of the Day" found there. Taking my phone from under the covers, I aimed it at the ceiling of that lonely hospital room and for the next little while I held magic in my hands. The Heavens were mine. Those cold, dark and frightening hours became a place of wonder. It was as though God was revealing it all just for me. Even Nurse Cratchett's heinous device could not steal my joy. What I was looking at brought to mind the glory of God, His grace and mercy poured out on all of us—at His own unimaginable expense. I began to recall years of countless answers to prayer, very real help in troubles past. I remembered how He taught me 

that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision.

I remembered that in times past I have found
His light in my darkness,...
His joy in my sorrow,
His grace in my sin,
His riches in my poverty,
His glory in my valley.
     The Valley of Vision, A collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions

As light dwells with Him, He knows what is in the darkness. A small thing then to know what dwells within the dark recesses of a body and out of the sight of the most advanced CT scanning equipment. How does my faith survive until morning? By looking away from the oh-so-smallness of me, myself and I and onto Him who created everything out of nothing with His spoken word and very breath. Humbled, I can say with Job, "Thy will be done" and am enlarged—indeed I have room to breathe. Perhaps that was, at least in part, Job's heritage. How does faith survive until morning? By holding tight to courage and remembering that all generations are but a vapour and then gone yet in Him is life as it is meant to be lived: confidentally, fully and forever. 

Someone has said, "Thankfulness takes the sting out of adversity." It does. It has. And it will.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A Matter of Memory

A simple man believes anything, but a prudent man gives thought to his steps.
Proverbs 14:15

I have been in need of laughter. With the recent loss of one friend to breast cancer and a diagnosis of breast cancer in another very dear to me, my perspective had become somewhat skewed and slightly darkened. While opening my heart to renewed faith and gratitude has been a restorative, so too has been memory. In the spirit of Hebrews 12:12-13, I want to tell you a funny story. I think my family and friends would agree that my best laughs are usually those that I tell on myself.
Santa Barbara Coastline
It’s disappointing when someone or something doesn’t live up to promised expectations. But it's a double dip doozey when the let down is one's own fault. Like when you know a sales pitch is too good to be true but you buy it anyway. Or, in my case, believing the hype about a vacation destination because I wanted to believe it and didn’t take the time to do some reasonable double checking.
That being said, some of our best laughs occurred that particular week. My photos could remind me of things that might have made us angry and probably would any sane person. Instead, they serve to make us laugh all over again. I suppose it’s how we remember. Or what we remember.
It began one evening as I was reading a website about an “idyllic tiny seaside community” not far from Santa Barbara that boasted vacation homes where one could "sit and gaze out at the blue Pacific Ocean right from their own front porch." I was a goner.
"Just what we need," I told my husband.
"Sounds great," he replied. 
My mistake compounded by his. (Hey, you didn't think I was going to take the blame for this alone, did you?)
The article continued, "This little bit of paradise is fast becoming popular as a place to own a second home." Of course what I was reading was the website belonging to said tiny-bit-of-paradise, but never mind. I found a perfect house to rent for a few days and had two or three chats with the owner who sounded first-rate.
"You'll love the house and the community," he said. "The house sits right across the street from the beach. It’s a very short walk."
We mailed the payment and before one could coo "The Pigeons Cometh" we packed our bags and were off.
(I've decided to not name said "little bit of paradise" because my goal isn't to do a hit piece on the place. After all, some people do call it home. Rather, the joke, so to speak, was on us and our willingness to believe what I had read without verifying.)
Having passed through some of the loveliest coastline scenery imaginable, we couldn't wait to pull into our "tiny idyllic seaside community." As we took our exit from The 101, we were somewhat confused and greatly surprised by the sign greeting our arrival:

Yes, we discovered that our rental was in the "hazard area" and yes, we drove on in, entering at our "own risk." Why, one might ask, did we not make an immediate U turn and head back to nearby Santa Barbara or any one of the truly idyllic seaside towns nearby? I can't answer that except to say that pigeons sometimes work really hard at their pigeonness and it remains a mystery to this day why they abide double dip doozers.
We unpacked and decided to explore. That's when we felt the next jolt in our geologic hazard idyll. What had been referred to as the “street” separating our community and house from the ocean was actually the freeway. What had looked to us like empty beach in the photos that we saw of the house had cars and trucks zooming by at 65+ miles per hour!
"How is one to cross The 101 to get to the beach?” I inquired of the long-distance owner. Using my best cranky-but-want-to-remain-reasonable-pigeon voice, "Do you expect us to head north on the freeway to the next town and just suddenly turn south?!”
“Oh, no problem,” he said. “Keep walking on down the lane from the house and you will see a little tunnel that will take you underneath it.” His voice was crackling over my cell phone. Surely I didn't hear him right.

“A ‘little tunnel’?" I croaked. "A ‘little tunnel’ UNDERNEATH the freeway? Is it safe?!”
“Oh yes, quite safe.” I swear I could hear him grin. “You might have to stoop over a little bit but it will be worth it.”

Somehow, it didn’t seem worth it.
We came back from our walk thinking we might fix dinner and eat on the deck hoping to enjoy what little bit of nice beach view that we did have:

But traffic had a way of blocking the waves:

Union Pacific shared our street

The writer of the website claimed that “for privacy and peace and quiet, nothing beats (the unnamed tiny seaside community) as a vacation retreat.”  He must not have known that Amtrak's trains run right through. 

Amtrak shared our view

I just loved all the waving from the Observation Car as it clickety-clacked by. We could have handed up turkey sandwiches.

But never mind. The house did not shift under our feet, it was clean and furnished with a very comfortable bed; we enjoyed wonderful visits with great friends; the sunsets were truly magnificent and we consumed way too much delicious food in other truly idyllic seaside towns. 

Pigeons or not, a double dip doozey doesn’t have to be the end of the world—and we are still laughing. It’s a matter of memory.

Typical sunset from our idyllic tiny seaside community

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

On Being a Knucklehead

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Romans 12:12

I read once that human nature needs suffering to make it useful. “Clever,” I thought right before I sent the book sailing across the room. I’ve done that a few times—thrown a book while in a pique. It’s becoming a bad habit; plays havoc with the pages.

But today I’m inclined to agree with that unremembered author whom I sent sailing across my living room a year or so ago. I remain astounded at the heartlessness of those of us who claim to care about the suffering of others but are not the least embarrassed or uncomfortable in offering an unsolicited opinion that will tell one friend exactly why her child was born with Down’s Syndrome, another exactly why he has Cancer, and yet another exactly why their spouse was unfaithful.

I meet regularly with others who, like myself, have stage 4 cancer. We have all seen the books, TV programs and magazine articles that declare

Eat this

Don’t eat this

Do this

Don’t do this

and troubles will wonderfully disappear or, worse, would never have occurred in the first place. Most everyone seems to have an opinion on the how and why and what of disease and afflictions and heartache, particularly that which happens to someone else.

If I listened to all who would advise me regarding my cancer, I would be a chicken and fish eating vegetarian crushing apricot seeds in a dry climate for my seaweed-animal protein drink, cross-training in a moist climate for hours in order to power nap because of mercury poisoning and sad beyond measure because it’s all my fault in the first place.

But all of that is just confusing media overload and I can work through it. The deeper frustration and the hurt comes when it gets personal—when an opinionated knucklehead, sometimes dressed in friendship garb, will lay an impossible guilt at one’s feet with an arrogance that demonstrates their belief that whatever-it-is that has happened to you wouldn’t happen to them in a billion trillion years.

“Spare no mercy,” I say. Hire all neighborhood kids to doorbell-ditch said knucklehead’s house, lure all dogs and cats to visit said knucklehead’s gardens, contact all politicians hinting that said knucklehead might donate to their campaign if asked - by phone and at dinner time.

“The human spirit will not even begin to try to surrender self-will as long as all seems to be well with it.” C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

And there, at least in part, might be an explanation for our arrogant behaviors. Our self-will, our grand ego, particularly in those of us who have not yet suffered, assumes that we somehow or other have high ground which compels the right to speak uninvited into the pain of another. Read Job.

So I must agree with that formerly irritating reminder, “human nature needs suffering to make it useful.” Perhaps we have all been knuckleheads at one time or another - probably me more than anyone. But I will confess, I will bear witness to the truth that my own suffering has been useful as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, blessed Trinity of my soul, crosses hairs with Me, Myself and I, the preferred trinity of my will. Mercifully, suffering has humbled me.

While there will always be much work to do in the ongoing course of humility learning, I have no delusions regarding my place under the sun as Lewis’ “all not being right with my spirit” has taught me to not think higher of myself than others. Suffering has served to help me want more of God and less of myself while thinking less of myself and more of others.

For the remaining time that I still have most of my marbles and my proverbial elevator still goes all the way to the top, may it be deeply embedded in my heart to never approach another in pain without invitation and humility. May I remember James’ excellent admonition that we be quick to listen and slow to speak. (James 1:19)

And now that I’m thinking of the rest of that verse “...and slow to anger,” I best take a short walk and make long confessions of my own.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

My Neighbor's Gate

A neighbor several blocks from my home has been posting poetry on her gate for sometime now. Snug in a nifty weather tight box secured to her fence, these one page offerings range from Shakespeare to Garrison Keillor. At least once a week I walk past her house just to see what she’s posted.

I’m not sure why she does it. Some of the offerings she posts are inspiring, others are charming or even funny. Whatever the intent, she asks nothing. The words are simply there for the passerby to embrace or ignore.

At the opposite end of the same block is a quiet house that sits back off the street, partly shaded by an immense and ancient Magnolia tree. My friend, Sandra, lives there. She is also dying there. Her family has been gathering to comfort both her and each other as cancer has taken a new and ferocious hold on her small and failing body.

Sandra doesn’t have poetry posted to her gate; her front yard does not include a fence. But Sandra’s heart has been actively posting for years: that God loves the world he has created and cares about our journey—hers, yours and mine. Perhaps it was these words of her favorite song that were posted in large print on her heart years ago which my friend and I saw reflected in Sandra’s lovely face when we were together for the last time:

"Let not your heart be troubled,"

His tender word I hear,

And resting on His goodness,

I lose my doubts and fears;

Though by the path He leadeth

But one step I may see:

His eye is on the sparrow,

And I know He watches me.

I have wondered if I had a gate with a nifty weather tight box secured to it, what words I would post for others to read. There are countless worthy of a good trumpeting.

But as I think of Sandra this week, her week of slipping away, I’m reminded that hers will be my fate—probably sooner than I would choose—and it occurs to me that all the inspiring and charming words written since man made his first jot will not matter very much then. What will matter is not what words I know but Whose words I know.

His whose eye is on the sparrow

His who loved the world so much that He gave his one and only Son, and

His, the Son, who loved the world so much that he said “yes” so that anyone who believes in him will not perish but have a meaningful and never-ending life.

That would be the offering of my post. And as with the words read on my neighbor’s gate, one is free to embrace or ignore the offering. But unlike my neighbor who appropriately asks nothing of her passersby, I cannot. I must stand at my gate and implore: think, consider carefully for His words are life.

Jesus answered, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." John 4:13-14

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Gift for Barbara Rose

I know that you have felt it too from time to time - a nudge, a peculiar feeling in the stomach that this is different; this is not a should - this is a must. It might have been

that note that needed sending

that idea that needed exploring

that woman standing in front of Rite Aid with broken front teeth and asking for money.

But the human doing* that I am will argue with the human being that I wish I was

telling me that I’m much too busy today

tomorrow will be different

I’ll be better organized, better prepared.

It’s usually a lie. There is precious little difference between the manic of my todays and the unbalanced pace of my tomorrows. Yet I have been learning. Perhaps that’s a gift of my cancer. I’m learning that to assume I—and anyone I care about—owns a tomorrow is, at best, to misapprehend reality. I’m also learning that to assume those occasional nudges can be shifted to tomorrow is to risk an opportunity that might not be regained. (I have never seen the woman with the broken front teeth again.) And I risk losing a blessing that can be far beyond my imagining. I want to tell you a story. It’s a story that belongs to our granddaughter, Elizabeth, and her mother, Amy.

It was about five years ago. Little Elizabeth Claire was in her early jewelry making phase. She had been given a box of glass beads, all quite beautiful to her seven year old eyes. With the use of a spool of special black thread she created what she knew were wonders.

The house next door to Elizabeth was a rental. It had suffered a continual turnover of new occupants, none of which had been particularly good neighbors. The Fall of that year, however, ushered in a new family that had potential. I’ll call them the Baxters. Now, not only did these new neighbors have two small cats, but Elizabeth’s mother, having just delivered a welcome basket of her famous homemade scones and jam, made the happy announcement that the Baxters also had a daughter, Barbara Rose. Elizabeth was delighted.

Alas, how quickly delight can turn to dismay: Barbara Rose was 12 years old! How could a 7 year old girl connect with a woman of 12? Elizabeth’s eyes fell on her bead box and she had a plan. “I’ll make her a necklace!” And with that she measured and cut her special black thread and began to string glass beads together into what she thought was a necklace so beautiful that any woman would be proud to wear it. Finished, she lovingly wrapped her creation in brown construction paper using as much scotch tape as she could to seal it well, which is to say that she used a lot, a whole lot. But her gift was finally ready for a royal presentation.

Unknown to Elizabeth, her mother had been watching her activity and measuring her excitement with a growing concern. Here was a tender and generous heart eager to connect in this kind way but, Amy’s mother-heart worried, what if this new neighbor didn’t see the same beauty that Elizabeth did? Pre-teens aren’t always known for their generosity and sensitivity. Feeling protective, Amy wondered if she was being wise in allowing her daughter to go through with this gift idea. But either way, she finally decided, this would prove to be a valuable life lesson. She could not have known then the full meaning of that thought.

As they knocked on the Baxter’s door, excitement grew. Barbara Rose was called and after introductions were made, the construction paper packet was carefully placed in her hand. It was a total triumph: the woman of 12 loved the creation of the 7 year old. Putting it on with glee, Barbara Rose wore Elizabeth’s necklace the rest of the afternoon and even to school the following day.

It was 2 mornings later that the Baxters stood at Elizabeth’s front door. Mrs. Baxter, clearly upset with eyes swollen and red, was trying to thank Elizabeth again for the beautiful necklace she had made and the memory that the Baxters would always cherish because of it. “Barbara Rose,” Mrs. Baxter began, “had your necklace on yesterday when... She was just trying to catch her bus so she was looking the wrong way. She didn’t see them coming...she was hit by 2 cars. She is, she’s...gone.”

So a mother’s wisdom was nudged to take a risk and a child’s spontaneous gift of glass beads strung together into a little necklace offered and received in welcome and friendship was the last gift received by Barbara Rose Baxter while she was on this earth. Who could have known.

*Conformed to His Image, Kenneth Boa, pg. 22

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Game, Part 3 his beloved children, our Father works a most kind good through our most grievous losses...In the testing ground of evils, your faith becomes deep and real, and your love becomes purposeful and wise.” David Powlison

The Game, Part 3

Part 3 of 3

For I assume that by knowing the truth you mean knowing things as they really are.” Plato

What does one say to a stranger on the telephone who may or may not know you and, if they do, may or may not want to talk to you? I wrote out a possible script, sent up an arrow prayer and dialed the number for Judge Gene Thomas. I hoped I would remember to breathe.

Hearing a soft and genteel, “Hello?” I very nearly hung up.

“Mrs. Thomas? Mrs. Gene Thomas?

“Why, yes,”she said.

Quickly moving my tablet closer, I read: “I apologize for intruding. You don’t know me but my name is Judith. I’m trying to locate my father, Evan Thomas, who may have been the brother of Gene Thomas, your husband.”

Silence. I think I counted five heart beats.

“Mrs. Thomas? Would you mind talking with me for a minute?”

It took her a moment longer to finally wrap her mind around who I was. “Judith? You mean...Is this little Judy? Evan’s girl?”

“I...Yes, I think I am.”

Surprised but not unhappy, the widow of Judge Gene Thomas welcomed my call. Pleasantries were exchanged, confirmations were made. This was indeed the family of my roots.

“Call me Althea,” she said after a bit.

Learning from me that mother had died, Althea spoke kindly of her then added, “We all loved her, Judy. Your mother was quality. Real quality.”

After an uncomfortable pause she then asked,“So, have you talked to Evan?”

“No. He is alive then?”

“Oh yes. He’s alive. His wife passed away just a few weeks ago and I think he’s staying with his son for a few months.”

I couldn’t decide if the timing was perfect or horrid but this I knew: calling an absent father at the home of an unknown half brother sounded as pleasant an undertaking as my last root canal. Unwilling to be convinced by Althea’s assurances that they would all be delighted to hear from me, I asked if she or someone else would be willing to act as a go-between, to give him a little time to prepare and also to protest if that was how he might feel. I could not afford to talk to Evan Thomas if he did not want to talk to me.

Calls were made; Evan did indeed want to connect and right away. But I decided to wait until the weekend when my husband could be with me. A date and time for the phone call was set.

If one doesn’t know what to say on the telephone to a stranger who is an aunt, what does one say on the telephone to a stranger who is one’s progenitor? I have no idea and I have no memory of what I did say. What I do remember is my husband sitting across our breakfast table watching me dial the phone at the agreed upon time then reaching across to hold my hand while I waited for Evan Thomas to answer.

He picked up after one ring. With his quiet and low “Hello” I began the long hoped for journey to unravel the Mystery of the Absent Father.

We love these reuniting stories. Or at least we think we do. Surely it’s embedded in our DNA - this hope, this expectation of wrongs being made right, of brokenness being restored. I remember watching a story on television once of a reunited mother and daughter. Everyone was bawling and laughing. The audience was ecstatic. But seldom are cameras invited back 6 months later. I think my husband was probably right when he said that the reasons for a parent being absent are hardly ever good.

During the first few months of our getting acquainted, Evan and I enjoyed daily long distance telephone conversations and weekly letters. He was charming and he was funny. His letters were interesting and he answered hundreds of my questions with patience. We were at the “audience was ecstatic” stage.

People began to respond to my personal ad shortly after it had been published in the newspaper. Ironically, no one was able to tell me anything about Evan Thomas' current whereabouts (which I had already learned), but several people who had been childhood neighbors wrote or phoned to share their memories with me of his family and what it was like growing up in a small town before the war. These were generous, kind people and I treasure those letters.

But the bogeyman was lurking around the corner. Having taken several months to get acquainted, I agreed it was time to meet. My husband and I spent some time there, Evan spent some time with us. Sadly, the man I had come to know through his letters was quite different from the one I came to know in person. The whispers regarding his character and misdeeds began to appear to be true. Increasingly inappropriate behavior quite suddenly required clear boundaries to be drawn. My alarms were met at first with apology and then with sarcasm and disdain. He was a conflicted man who said he wanted to do right but he couldn’t - or wouldn’t. Angered by the boundaries that my husband insisted on and that I was grateful for, he died four years later having never spoken with me again.

So I had met my begetter and learned more of my tribe. My questions had been put to rest and there was nothing left to yearn. But it came with a cost - progress usually does. Hard work with an excellent counselor and a judicious use of an antidepressant proved helpful for a season and, by God’s grace, I regained my center, as they say.

Sometime later I was asked by a friend if I had regretted my decision to risk so much for the answers that I found. Given what I had learned, she wondered if I would be willing to do it again. I think she was surprised to hear me say that I absolutely would. The Mystery of the Absent Father was solved. An ending was written and while it wasn’t the ending I would choose, I at least knew how things really were. I gained far more than I lost: in learning the truth, I was set free.

Allowing God’s word the time to penetrate my mind, my heart and my hurt has healed my spirit so deeply that while there was profound disappointment, there has been no bitterness. This was my decision and my risk and God allowed me this grace to know that no one, except Jesus Christ, can love anyone perfectly.

Evan told me once that when I was very small I used to run to him squealing “Daddy!” throwing my arms around his leg. He said I ran so hard to him one time I cut my lip on his knee. “Funny the things you remember,” he said. I thought of the fig tree and the picket fence and a little girl’s quiet waiting.

“Yes,” I said, knowing he could never understand. “Funny.”

Photo Attribution

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Game, Part 2 his beloved children, our Father works a most kind good through our most grievous losses...In the testing ground of evils, your faith becomes deep and real, and your love becomes purposeful and wise.” David Powlison

The Game

Part 2 of 3

You hold my right hand, you guide me with your counsel

Psalm 73:23-24

I was fourteen years old when mother told me that she had been adopted. Rumor always had it, she said, that her father was an attorney in the small midwest town where she grew up. Many years later and shortly after she died, I petitioned the court to have her adoption file unsealed. It was empty. Or that’s what I was told. The Mystery of the Emptied Case File.

I lost my father when I was three; my parents were divorced and he was gone. Raised by a loving mother but cared for by an unloving aunt, there was never a day in my young life that I didn’t long for “daddy” to find us. I would spend hours hiding under my aunt’s fig tree hopeful that wishes would work magic and he would come back. But he didn’t. The Mystery of the Absent Father.

Knowing one’s begetter and tribe can be profoundly compelling so after I turned 49 I finished with mystery, or at least the acceptance of it. Mother had died; my kind stepfather had remarried. It was time to find what answers I could to the secrets of my own history. Above all I wanted to find him, the “daddy” I still wanted to know. I wanted to discover for myself if ugly family whispers and hints were true. But here is what I learned along the way:

Caution One: Finding “daddy” can be a dangerous business and one I do not necessarily recommend. Before setting out, it is important to have grown beyond a child’s vulnerability - an emotional neediness of an absent parent.

Caution Two: Growing beyond an emotional neediness of an absent parent can be difficult. As long as I carried in my adult being a hurting child’s heart, I was more vulnerable that I wanted to admit. No matter what I told myself that I wanted to know, no matter how I intellectualized my pursuit with thoughts about wanting health history and truth, what I really wanted to discover was that “daddy” would have come back if he could and, in spite of what anyone said or thought, he had loved his child more than himself.

Caution Three: It was important that I did not do this alone. “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” (Proverbs 11:14) I was profoundly helped by the prayers, counsel and protection of my husband and another very wise friend.

Rather than continuing to call him “daddy,” I will pitch the annoying quotation marks and call him Evan. Evan Thomas. It’s a name I have made up, pulled clean out of the air. If it is the name of someone you know, it’s a coincidence. Courtesy, if nothing else, requires that names be changed.

Finding Evan Thomas was surprisingly easy. Living with what I found proved more difficult. Several times that Monday morning I called upon the power and wisdom of God to direct my steps. Sometimes we pray that way while fully intending to run headlong into whatever it is we want and inviting God, like a cosmic Father Christmas, to come along for the ride and bless our determinations. But while I do not doubt that a large part of my motive grew out of a life-long yearning to know the absent Evan, I also believe that God was leading me that day.

I had been putting freshly laundered towels away in our linen closet, reviewing the few facts that I did have and wondering how I was going to get this done. I had made other small forays into hopeful discovery years before with no success. Other than a formal picture of a handsome young sailor in his uniform, all I knew about Evan Thomas was what mother felt she could tell me:

they had been high school sweethearts;

they graduated and were married just before America’s entry into WW II;

he had a gentle mother with a flower name.

Later I would remember that he also had an older brother, Gene. I did not know how important that information would prove to be.

As I put the last towel away in its place, I suddenly had a plan. So simple. After checking that their high school still existed, I called the school office and asked for help. “Try contacting our city newspaper,” the school secretary said. “There are lots of readers from that generation who have moved all over the country and still have our hometown paper delivered to them. If you run a personal ad, someone might recognize him.” A long shot. But long shots are not closed doors. I called the paper.

A beat reporter answered the phone and after hearing what I was looking for began to piece together what he called “A Personal.” Reviewing what he had written he said,“It would be better if you had more information - like the name of some other relative, anything - you know, to help readers remember.”

I had almost forgotten. “Oh, hey, I do remember someone else. I think he had a brother named Gene who may have played a trumpet and taught school."

“OK. That might help. We’ll get this going and...wait a minute, did you say ‘Gene?’ Would that be Gene Thomas? Judge Gene Thomas?” his voice rising with new interest. The upbeat change in his tone travelled through the telephone receiver, up my arm, into my brain pan and deep into my soul.

“No, it couldn’t be,” I said hoping I was wrong. “This Gene Thomas was a school teacher. He may have taught orchestra or something.”

“So did Judge Thomas! Many years ago. Oh yeah, if it’s the same Gene Thomas, you’ll like knowing he was a great guy. Everyone loved him.”

“He was a great guy? As in past tense?” How could I even speak with my heart in my throat.

“Yeah, well, if this isn’t a coincidence. You’re lucky I answered the phone today - I’m usually not here at lunch time. I wrote the Judge’s obituary. They buried him just a few months ago. ” My stunned silence followed by the tiniest “oh” caught his attention.

“Sorry,” he said. “But his widow still lives in their home in the next county over. I can’t give you their phone number, but I’m pretty sure you could get it through information. If not, call me back - I’ll see what I can do. In the meantime, shall I run the ad anyway?”

“Yes. And thanks.” I gave him my billing information and quickly hung up.

My hands had suddenly developed a mind of their own and were unwilling to obey my “stop shaking” directive. I had to dial long distance information twice.

“Yes, hello,” I managed to say. “ I need the number of a Judge Gene Thomas, please.” I half expected the operator to scold and ask me just what I thought I would be wanting with that number but she didn’t. She simply read it to me. I repeated it back and hung up. I sat staring at my tablet. Ten digits. Ten numbers which together formed a connection that after nearly 50 years was the only thing between me and someone who might know Evan Thomas and if he was alive or where he lived. It had all taken less than an hour.

Photo attribution

To be continued...