Friday, April 29, 2011


The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge - Married this day.

I can't deny it...they look so beautiful, so wonderful.  So gifted, so young, so rich.

Today Mario and I made the final preparations on our marriage class: a four session interactive course we are calling "Marital Fitness"... geared toward the un-churched.   As we were looking over video clips together, my friend, Bonnie caled to ask if I wanted to come over and watch the royal wedding at her house.  

"Oh, that's today?" I answered, sheepishly.  She laughed.  Bonnie knows that I, as both an American and as a  rare spectator of commercial news, am hopelessly clueless to the English influence that is over this country.  Therefore, I have little clue to how the man next in line (after Prince Charles) to the British throne would celebrate his marriage to a beautifully non-royal Kate Middleton.  

She doesn't understand: I did this 30 years ago.  

While I was busily working at the outline of a class to prepare young couples who could care less about tradition or the church for a healthy, long-lasting marriage, William and Kate became man and wife.  Their marriage (or what we can see of it) is the veneered hope for the world to again appreciate the institution that is the backbone of England and the free world: marriage.  

As I scrambled, tonight to catch up on what the rest of the world had been watching all day, I caught a color commentary (featuring a few British anchors and the American, Giuliana DePandi) that bantered about the dress, the vows, the eye contact and the upcoming cake.  It was precious, but lacked substance.  

No one (during the commentary)  asked if these two had been exposed to working covenants, or marriages that went the distance.  Not much is said about their religious upbringing or desire to live for God.  No one is talking about their preparation for marriage, or who they have seen as a couple they can confide in.  These, as Mario and I were working out today, are the salvation of most marriages- Christian or not. 

Maybe I noticed it because Mario and I were busy today with marriage course preparations.  Maybe I am fed up with color commentaries acting like they are personal friends of those they are speaking about.  Maybe I can say (with all honesty) that I am clueless about how to motivate the world (including those close to me) how to prepare for the deepest, most mine-filled covenant that they will ever see in their lifetime.

As with most things, the wedding today glittered from the outside, and therefore looked healthy to most who were watching.  Good luck, guys.  I couldn't live a royal life in a fishbowl, and don't know many who could.  

God bless the young couple...and God help us all to live in marriages that stand the test of time.  

Friday, April 22, 2011



Painting by Thomas Blackshear II

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know His name. 

Growing up in a Catholic family with his image everywhere, a crucifix in most every room and a rosary on my wish list, Jesus is deep in my childhood memories.

In my favorite pictures, then, He was handsome.  Our hallway had a framed picture that my parents called “The Sacred Heart”, with Jesus glowing in light, showed an equally glowing heart in His chest, erupting fire, a wooden cross and a crown of thorns.  Despite the gruesome image of crucifixion the heart connotes, His face was peaceful, and like the Mona Lisa he wore a content expression that was almost a smile.  This I passed everyday going to and coming from my room at the end of the hall. 

Another image of “handsome Jesus” is the one in my grandmother’s extra guest room, where we used to go and sprawl across the bed, pick at the bedspread and talk about boys.  Above the door  that led to the kitchen hung a paper picture (probably torn from the top of a calendar) that showed Jesus, clothed in a long, flowing white robe with a red velvet sash, walking with a shepherd’s crook  among many white sheep.  As they grazed, he walked with a small lamb around his neck, a confident look of moving forward on his face.   Sometimes, on the same bed, as I talked on the phone to friends, I would look at the picture absently.  It wasn’t until I grew up, and tried to find the picture, that I realized I loved that image of Him.  Confidently leading a bunch of grazing sheep, and carrying one who was too small to navigate the rocks. 

These pictures influenced my heart.  They influenced what I actually believed. I believed that Jesus was a good guy, who lived a long time ago A holy, glowing shepherd who was full of love. 

Although I tried to really get into it, I knew that church was something that was connected to my family and our life together.   As I grew up, moved away, went to college, church became something I did when I went home.

It wasn’t until I was absolutely desperate that I returned to what I was brought up to believe. 

I was 23 and was running away from my boyfriend who I had been living with, our infant son was asleep in his car seat beside me.  The things I had taken were now rattling around in my car:  a quickly disassembled crib, my son’s clothes and his diaper changing stand.

I had secretly been addicted to crank, a cheap methamphetamine, for about a year.  As a ticket to more (or free) drugs, we began to deal out of our house.  Long hours and tweaking were beginning to be noticeable in my appearance – and my relationships.  My otherwise peaceful boyfriend had become violent, and sometimes after 24 hours or so of being high, we would fight.  These "crash" periods, while normal for the user, were becoming wildly unpredictable, with escalating aggression.  I had been planning my escape from my boyfriend, who had recently become paranoid and utterly overprotective.  I had even timed my exit and measured what I could fit in my car. What I didn't count on, for the day that I left, was a fight that would leave me not only bruised, but hysterical.  After he fell asleep, I left him and Sacramento,  half-crying, half-choking from emotion. 

I had only one place to go where he wouldn’t come after me: my parents’ house.  The problem was, I realized, as I was driving, I forgot to take drugs with me.  I was already on my way down, and I didn’t know anywhere I could score in my parents’ small town.  In my head, as it was clearing, I did the math.  I had a few hours before the shaking, the stomach cramping, the terrible dead zone...and then cravings that made you crazy.   I also knew I was now in a different reality: I had no money, no privacy, no plan and a baby.  If I were driving home, I’d be putting myself right under my parents’ nose and they’d be able to tell, from my skanky appearance, that I was in bad shape.  When I pulled into the driveway, I knew I was doomed.  Any road from here would be tough.

Robert Frost once wrote:  “Home is where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in”.   That was me.  My mom opened the door, greeted me holding the baby, and quickly sized up what I knew she would: I wasn’t just visiting, and I was finished. 

After setting up the crib in the downstairs guest room, I got on my knees and prayed. “GOD, if you’re up there, get me off drugs.”   It was all I could manage, and I was out of words. 

It was instantaneous.

I had never before felt what I did then, and it was incredible.  That night I ate dinner at the table with my family.  I ate solid food, for the first time in four months.  I digested my food and went to bed.  I feel asleep – by myself. 

It was then that I realized that God had answered my prayer.  It was then that I realized that God was real...not a religion.  It was then that I realized He was probably really pissed off at me. 

So, I went back to church. I got a job.  I tried to be a good mother, a good daughter, a good citizen.  I tried to be the best darn person I could be.  The problem was, I wasn’t a good person.  I knew that in the world, I was one of the people who was bad.  My thoughts, my actions, my tendency to hurt those who loved all pointed to the fact that I was faking goodness.  I was a poser.

One day a friend asked me to come with her to church for a women’s meeting where she would be speaking.  I agreed, only to be nice, and got to hear her speak about Jesus and his love.  In my head, I was wondering what was on HBO, what I had in the fridge... until she began to talk about how He changed her life. 

Apparently, my friend, the associate Pastor's wife (who looked like Christie Brinkley and glowed like Moses) was a bad person too.  As she spoke, she relayed a lot of memories of growing up, her mistakes, her patterns of choices, her decisions to use...but she spoke without shame, as if she were reading a shopping list.  I looked intently at her, a young mother like me, sharing with a room full of church people stuff I wouldn’t have told to my skankiest drug-addicted friends.   

I was in major disbelief.  “No way,” I thought to myself.  “No way did this happen to her...”

It was then I heard Jesus’ voice for the first time: “It didn’t happen to who she is, it happened to who she used to be.  And THAT’S why I died.” 

It is hard to put this: but it was as if heaven opened and all of the things I was supposed to learn about God, Jesus, The Holy Spirit, the Bible, and everything I had ever heard in church became real. What I was supposed to have drizzled over me like rain came down in a tidal wave.   I felt drowned with hope and belonging.  It was I found my long-lost Jesus...that I never really knew in the first place. 

In that room, I couldn’t stop crying.  I was overcome with a love that was so powerful that I realized that posing and pretending were no longer necessary.  I felt unchained, and beautiful and so overwhelmed with love....

I also felt a little embarrassed.  A breakdown like this, in public, was pretty unusual.  “If these ladies want to talk to me or pray for me or anything, I  am so out of here...” I thought, afterward.  Instead, a quiet hush over the room, and I realized that others were sharing the same incredible revelation  I had, just in their own personal way. At the end of the meeting, as I picked myself up and got ready to leave, I slipped out the door, unnoticed.  My heart had been changed. 

That was twenty-two years ago.

Today is the day that we call “Good Friday”; the day that we believe is the one when Jesus was crucified.  The day when he proved that the most hateful, most pathetic, most selfish, cruel, disgusting, ungrateful people are worth loving.  On this day He made it possible for me to say I am a princess, the daughter of a king. 

He died to transform the wreckage of my life and make me a masterpiece of His grace.  It’s too wonderful for me to believe, when I look at the big picture. 

Look at me.

Do I look like something special?  I’m not.  I’m the most ordinary specimen of a human being.  BUT I hold inside of me a secret:  the punishment of the cross has become my peace. 

He was not given to the world to condemn it.  He was given to us by our Father  to set us free, not only from hell, but from this world and its empty promises, from ourselves and our unsatisfied desire for more, more, more. 

That secret is one I'll live the rest of my life to share. 

It makes me glow. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Zuzu looks at Mario as Peaches sniffs the sofa

April 17, 2011 was last Sunday - the day that our four year temporary residency visa to South Africa expired.

I can't believe we've been here four years.

Thanks to Mario, we now have a new (or "re-newed") visa, but not our permanent residency permit that we applied for in January.  The red bureaucratic tape of  staying here has been a nightmare, but since we are determined to live out what God wants for us here...we press through as best as we can.  

A few weeks ago, Mario took a day off "eldering" and made his way to Johannesburg Central to stand in line at the Bureau of Home Affairs in order to extend our visa, since it looked like ours would expire before permanent residency was granted.  He parked his car at 8:30 and waited in the longest line he had ever waited in - finally leaving at 5:00 pm.

The Bureau (known for its inefficiency already) was unprepared for the deluge of people there, and Mario wondered why the crowded offices had a line extending to the sunny street corner where he could feel a sunburn affecting him.    Asking the person next to him if it was always like this, they answered him, "No, never! This is just a rush of people wanting to process before April first."

The Bureau (un-beknownst to us) had announced a few days before that the fees on all paperwork, from Marriage licenses to passport applications would increase 300% - and Mario was caught up in a storm of people determined to beat the deadline before the price went up.  

The lines moving slowly were the least bothersome thing that day for Mario... a wait that long brings out the worst in people.  Those who are waiting and those who are serving were losing their tempers or being difficult.  A wait that long would stress most people.

At the end of the day, Mario emerged with a receipt of payment, a reference number, and a smile from ear to ear.  He considered himself blessed, even though we had just spent 900 rand because the same department was too slow to process our permanent residency permit that we had spent fifteen hundred rand four months before.

In all honesty, it has been a battle in the last year to remain focused on the will of God 24/7.  I get homesick and miss my family.  I get discouraged in well-doing, like the Word of God says I shouldn't.  I wish I were more like Amy Carmichael or Jackie Pullinger - dug in deeply - and refusing to call any place but heaven my home.  I want to be the powerful, blinding container of God's presence that I know He intends me to be... and sometimes my flame in the container is flickering meagerly, as if it is tired and worn out.

A few nights later, upon voicing this, Mario and I decided to pray for my attitude...together.  I was strangely comforted.  Even during the worst times (Want to know what the worst times are? They are when something terrible happens to one of your kids or siblings at home and you can't be there because you can't afford to hop on a plane...and at the same time the people you have chosen to live amongst forget the love of God or the grace of God or the presence of God and they'd rather talk about how you should be more like ______ who is really sold out for God ) I know...God is not finished painting with us here.

I know it's not forever, but we are supposed to be here for now...and doing exactly what we are doing.  On most days, we are blessed beyond belief.  Busy, yes, but happy in the knowledge that we are both, as a team, part of a team that is working out really great and beautiful things....with God.

After prayer, after a reality check...I reflected.  Seeing last year turn over to this year, is seeing the night turn over to the dawn.  I see God moving and showing me more of His plan.  Through it all, I realized that Mario has never wavered...although he's hated my "flickering faith".

In realizing that both God and my husband are more that promise keepers, I found rest.

A few days ago, I went shopping for a basket for Easter at the SPCA thrift store.  I always look at the dogs while I'm there, mainly because that's how I found Zuzu.  I hadn't found a match for our dog yet, but I wasn't ruling it out.  Instead of finding one there, I came home to research Zuzu's breed, a Miniature Pinscher.  In doing so, I found Min-pin puppies for sale down the road.

It didn't take long for us to go look at the litter, a bunch of min-pin mixes that were adoreable.  We ended up buying one.

We named her Peaches...and we've had her for two days.

We don't have permanent residency, but we have a puppy.

Hey, I'm as dug in as it gets.

Saturday, April 16, 2011


It was only after the alarm sounded on the electric gate outside that I realized the power had gone back on.  As usual, the alarm, then the fan that both cools the room and provides white noise, then the fans in the hall.  Like clockwork, it is a reminder that the bad storm and all the inconveniences that came with it are over...and we once again have electricity.

Mario stirred, then whispered "Thank you, Lord."  He looked beautiful and young and cozy... and it was here that I knew the day would be good.

More rain.
Clothes distribution.
More rain.
Dinner at friends.

That, in a nutshell, is what I did today.

What's missing is the beauty; the painful details; laughter; love; fun.

The total joy of my day can be lost in summing up what I did in lists or insignificant brush strokes of jobs I've done or how I performed.  What I did and what I said is lost without detail.

So, for those who say I can be a bit verbose, here is the alternative.  Nod if you can hear me.

So my secret delights and love and tears and concerns will be mine to keep just for today.  Tomorrow I'll tell you the truths in detail.

Thank God...another day.

Saturday, April 9, 2011


Vincent Ryan Bokarica Rodriguez - 10 minutes old

It was 5 in the morning when I felt my first labor pain.  The doctor told me it would feel like menstrual cramps, but I had never before had a menstrual cramp.  I guess this is what it felt like. 

My sleeping boyfriend, Randy, lay unmoveable, so I decided to go back to sleep.

It was no use;  I was too excited.  After all, in the days before ultrasound was used as regularly as a thermometer, I was woefully uninformed about a lot of things: Is the baby okay?  Is it a boy or a girl? Will it be safe to deliver naturally?   

Those morning hours on the 8th of April, 1985 were spent in strange pain and discomfort, and I finally surrendered and went to the hospital where I was to deliver this little person.   Methodist Hospital in Sacramento was about a five minute drive from the home we shared with Randy’s family. 

I stayed there at the house, with the permission of his mother, Dorothy, and with the blessing of his sister, Cindy.  Because of my juxtaposition to Randy’s ex-girlfriend, with whom he had his first son, Nickelous, Dorothy made the occasional mistake of calling me by her name: Karen.

That morning was no different.  “Good Luck, Karen,” she said as I was leaving.    In pain, and in labor was nothing compared to being mistaken for Randy’s ex.  I would be Randy’s “new girlfriend” – even after a year. 

I arrived at the hospital and went straight to maternity.  I had them call my doctor, only to find that it was his day off. The Doctor standing in, Dr. Starkes, was someone who I was unfamiliar with, but who turned out to be incredible. 

The nurses who prepped me for “labor and delivery” strapped a belt around the biggest part of my belly and told me that I was a special case: a test patient for a new thing called a fetal monitor. While I was uncomfortable and in pain (that seemed to just be getting worse) the nurses had an in-service in my room.  Their lesson was on technology, and they all were watching this newfangled thing make a tape that told them the state of the baby and the intensity of my contractions. 

I wished they’d leave, and they finally did.

Randy smoked a ton of cigarettes, nervously, and many times my sister-in-law (my name for her), Cindy, took his place comforting me.  At 5 o’clock there was no comfort that I could get from anything.  I screamed and hollered for mercy...and finally got it in a shot, called Visterol.   

Some kind of opiate sent from God...

In the quiet of the no-pain  zone, I reflected on my life.  I was raised well, but rebelled at every turn. I finally moved in with my drug dealer whom I fell deeply in love with.  I found out soon that he loved drugs much more that I did, but couldn’t extricate myself from the relationship because... I loved him.  One thing led to another and I became pregnant. 

Pregnancy made me lay my drug habit down – I had to.  What I later learned is that I was not clean and sober.  I was just dry.

A life without drugs is not the same thing for an addict as sobriety.  Sobriety is a clean life where you deal with your problems one by one.  You live in a reality that is shared with others, where you are forced to acknowledge that you have damaged a lot of people besides yourself.  When possible, you apologize, or make amends to those you’ve hurt.  Sobriety is one day at a time, and usually acknowledges a “higher power” or GOD as the one who is in control. 

There, on the bed where I would eventually deliver my baby, I was terrified.

Where was God? Who was He?  I knew my Catholic upbringing gave me encyclopaedic answers for this stuff, but it wasn’t  much more than knowledge.  I knew He was there, but I also knew I was bad.  The bad girl.  The girl who became addicted to meth and blew it with her parents and never would have hope of having any decent life.  I would be the girl who would screw up the birth of her own baby - the hardest cross I would bear.  A baby born to suffering...for my mistakes.  Rushed to an incubator to have its sweet little DNA analyzed to see what had gone wrong. 

Instead, of all of my fears, the wee morning hourse of April 9th  brought forth a little baby boy who came out...perfect. 

Vincent Ryan Bokarica.  

“It’s a BOY!!” the doctor shouted through his mask.  He placed the little baby on my tummy, while he cut the cord.  It was then I saw Vincent’s face for the first time.  He lifted up his head, and looked into my eyes.  His were deep blue, and through the slick film of birth, he looked at me.   I was in love.

Then, something wonderful and strange happened.  He anchored himself on my tummy, raised himself up on his hands (like a tree-frog) and lifted his head.  A large, black nurse laughed and shrieked “Look at that baby!! Look at that baby!!” I couldn’t believe it.  “Is this normal?” I asked, as I watched Vince look around. 
“Hardly,” the doctor answered, finishing off the stitches.  It was a joy to see: that not only was my baby healthy: he was beautiful and strong. 

After a bath and a blanket, the nurses rolled me out the doors, cradling him.  As we went into the hall, Dorothy and Cindy were there, expecting news.  “It’s a boy!!” I  shouted, forgetting that I was holding a baby.  Cindy, with her omnipresent camera came over and snapped a lot of shots, one of which shows Vincent reaching over his receiving blanket and trying to touch my face. 

So.  That was twenty six years ago.  My face, my body, my memories have all accumulated what they are supposed to.  I am 48.  That day I had Vince I was younger than he is today: 22. 

On that day, God showed me that He was not only in control, but that He was full of grace. Full of Grace.  Beyond my heart, beyond my expectations, I deserved nothing less that total disaster.  Instead, he gave me a masterpiece.

Today, Vince is a man.  We connect the same way we did the day he was born: beyond what is normal.  I love him tremendously, and say that he saved my life.  After having him, reality came quickly and I welcomed it.  His life made mine better, and I pray that he can say the same. 

April 9, 1985. 

A Tuesday. 

Tuesday’s child is full of grace.  

Thank you, Lord.  Happy Birthday, Vince.  

Friday, April 1, 2011


Waking up at midnight with my baby...and rocking her back to sleep.  

For as long as I can remember I have wanted to be a mother.

I can remember my first dolls; my first high chair; my first pretend crib.  All of the cliches about the mother instinct applied to me and my dolls absolutely loved me!

At 23 I had a wake up call in the form of a baby.  He was perfect...a 10 on the apgar scale.  His life was the most (without a doubt) valuable thing I had ever been given in a trust.  The truth of a life is that you baby, who you rock to sleep, wake up with and comfort, lay your life down for, your career plans (and your plans for fun) down not yours. The first person to tell you this is usually the child.

Vince, the baby I held in my arms and rocked to sleep every night, now works the oil fields in New Mexico, head to toe in protective flame retardant clothing.  He loves it.  It satisfies the boy who loved to fashion guns out of tree branches, rocks and driftwood.  I disallowed guns when he was small- because they were too violent.  He loves guns now...and restores them from a defunct state into a thing of beauty.  Everything I thought was poison has become his staples...and I have learned to love who he has become.   He is the one I have never been able to steer into what I think would be the best choices for him.  "After all, mom," (says Mario) "He's his own man".  In a week he will be twenty six.  Twenty six.  My throat is choked, and tears fill my eyes.

When I was twenty six, I had just given birth to my last child...a daughter.  Alicia Robynn... sigh.  It took a lifetime of memories to choose her name.  Alicia (the name) came from two outstanding women.  As a young girl, I decided my daughter would be named after my Nana, Alice Celia - the daring, sharp-as-a-whip woman who dared to stand out and say what she thought....  Later, after marrying Mario I met Alice...his "step mom".  Larger than life, a Broadway Song and Dance girl, she sparkled everywhere she went, usually drawing a crowd.  Married to Mario's dad, a Spaniard, he nicknamed her "Alicia", his Alice.  Robynn, the Christian woman who lived loving Jesus right in front of me and introduced me to Him for her middle name.

Now she is a mother herself.

To see her mothering instincts is amazing.  Today she was speaking of picking out a name for her baby that she is expecting: a girl.  Harmony, her own 18 month old daughter could not have been more aptly named.  She is a Harmonic force wherever she goes, bringing the least common denominators into a place a peace,  love and appreciation of this miracle, this beautiful girl.

As she jots her thoughts down in instant messages to me, I feel softly connected to the girl I held each night... the baby that learned to speak, walk, love, laugh, read and write with me right there.  Now, a woman of 22, she is first to remind me she is her own woman, making her own choices, as if I don't know this.  I am reminded of how dependent she was on me in her youth...and like an exoskeleton, she shed that skin and became outgoing, willful, strong, bold, brazen....

My goodness, whose genes does she have?

Another grandchild is coming in August.  The thought of this chills me and excites me.  Everyday...a little more growing.  Each day, life goes on.

I release them to their full destiny in God... My prayers are that they would know how much I love them...and how much they belong in the kingdom of God.