Summer in the Waiting Room: Faith • Hope • Love
Part 1: Faith – November 6, 1963 ~ June 6, 2010
When I was a kid, mom taught us to say, “thank you God, and thank you mom” after breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Of course, I understood why I was thanking mom. She cooked the meals. The reason for thanking God never really dawned on me. I thought it was a ritual like everything else about church: sitting and standing at the appropriate times, praying the “Our Father,” taking Communion, and reciting responses after the priest gave a blessing. For mom, the words had deep meaning. Through the course of any given day, you could hear her say, “si Dios quiere” (God willing), “gracias a Dios” (thank God), and “Dios te bendiga” (God bless you). These expressions of devotion were part of every discussion she had with someone. They weren’t mere clichés to her. She was patient, understanding, and thoughtful no matter the situation, good or bad. Mom was a woman who put herself in God’s hands.
As I grew older and more financially secure, I started to notice the beautiful simplicity of her life. I found time to visit her in the morning on the way to work almost every Friday. I loved to see her eyes brighten and her smile broaden when she opened the door. A warm hug greeted me before she escorted me to the kitchen to fix a plate of papas (fried potatoes), two over-easy eggs, a cup of coffee, and warm tortillas. Mom loved to hear about my week and shared news about my brothers and sisters. Her children and grandchildren were her prized “possessions.” When my siblings and I bought “nice” homes and filled them with “nice things” (her words), she beamed with pride. When she passed away, she had the same round kitchen table, simple living room furniture, basic dinette, and plain bedroom set that I remember as a boy. She appreciated every bit of it. I never heard her yearn for more or complain about what she didn’t have.
Mom genuinely believed that to live a happy and fulfilling life, one has to be truly thankful for all that God has provided. My guess is that she had a happy and fulfilling life. The struggles of living and the heartbreak of losing loved ones didn’t deter her from being grateful. She didn’t know her father. She grieved when she lost my grandma, dad, and older sister. She wasn’t surrounded with “nice things.” She never visited the places she dreamed about. Nevertheless, she was truly thankful for what she had and appreciated every day of life God gave to her.
Faith is a powerful ride-or-die partner to have by your side, especially while riding the roller coaster we call life. I’ve been on quite a ride myself, most of it without the guardrails of faith and gratitude. The highs and lows and twists and turns of my story resemble a wild ride on the Giant Dipper, a whitewashed wooden 1920s era roller coaster with bright red tracks that dominates the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. When I was a kid, we used to simply call it “The Roller Coaster.” Getting on The Roller Coaster was my all-time favorite thing to do every time my family went to Santa Cruz, which is about a 45-minute drive from where I grew up.
On June 7, 2010, Sandra and I were approaching our 20th wedding anniversary, our two daughters were healthy and happy, and I had achieved success in my career. It felt like being on top of the world. Like the Giant Dipper’s next move after reaching its climactic peak, my life would soon make an abrupt and furious downward turn and plummet toward its lowest depths. That summer, I embarked on a quest to understand faith the way my mom understood it.