In the middle of last week, I felt a sudden and overwhelming urge to see my family. They all live 100 miles away or so and have busy lives, with jobs, kids and hectic social calendars. It had only been a month or so, but I couldn’t help myself. I didn’t send out an S.O.S., or even a guilt trip. I simply sent out an invitation via text message:

 I am missing my family something fierce these days. Is anyone free to come meet me in San Clemente this weekend? Saturday or Sunday?

They had early morning soccer games and late night concert tickets, home projects and volunteering commitments, but miraculously, they all said yes. Sunday morning they were willing to drive forty miles to see me and my family. The only ones missing would be Keara, away at college, and my parents, who are currently crossing the Atlantic on a Disney cruise. Since we were going to be near some of our best friends, I texted them the invitation as well. I immediately heard back:

We are around all day. We will join you wherever you guys end up. Just let me know! Yippee!

Well, that’s awesome, I thought and I went through the rest of my week with a smile on my face, knowing that Sunday would be a good day. But as the week went on, the thought of Sunday started to lag. Our family was out late Friday and Saturday nights; I was speaking at our church on Sunday evening and nightly school, work and social events are lined up for the next six days. I didn’t need an additional hundred-mile roundtrip, beach extravaganza to be happy.

What was I thinking? I asked myself as the alarm went off on Sunday morning. (Alarms should never go off on Sunday mornings!) But we loaded up the truck with surfboards, wetsuits, fins and frisbees and headed up the coast to meet our crew.

Of course, the day was fabulous and worth every ounce of effort. The sun never really came out, but as you can see, it didn’t slow us, or our fun down.

My baby sister, Amy and I, always make our own fun!


As we piled in the car to head home, I pulled out my phone to send a birthday text message to a very special person.

Twenty-five years ago yesterday on September 18, 1991, I gave birth to Sarah Moses, my first-born daughter and twenty-five years ago today, I gave her up for adoption. She had been on my mind all week as this milestone birthday approached. I had already sent off a birthday card and made plans to meet up with her mom, Dee. Sarah is finishing up grad school in Los Angeles, so getting to see her is always a challenging proposition!

I could have called, but instead I wrote:

Happy Birthday darling girl! I can’t believe you are 25 today. I am thinking of you, love you and spent the morning with my brothers and sisters who all held you the day you were born and loved on you. My best friend Laura sends her love. She was there that day as well and she gave me a big hug for you. You are always in my heart Sarah Moses and I hope you feel my love over the miles.

I hit send and then I laughed.

What had I done? Somehow, unconsciously, without ever making the connection, I had gathered around me the very people who had been present to me on that beautiful and heartbreaking day, a quarter century ago.

On that day, I was physically and emotionally exhausted, in love with my newborn daughter and letting her go. I had told my mom in advance that I wanted my family to come meet her. Even though she wouldn’t be a part of our lives, I wanted us to celebrate her birth together. It was a school day, so my dad drove my 14 and 11-year-old siblings, Tim and Amy, a hundred miles through rush hour traffic to be there. Charlie, my older brother, was at school at USD just around the corner, and he brought his then-girlfriend, Laura, with him to lend support.

When we got home from the beach, I pulled out my photo album from the day of Sarah’s birth and found the family photo that included the baby girl who celebrated her twenty-fifth birthday yesterday.

September 18, 1991

I sent it to her with the caption: Your birth family on your birth day!

I also discovered pictures of moments I had forgotten, showing the tenderness with which she and I were both held that day.


In The Alchemist, Paolo Coelho writes: “When you want something, all the universe conspires to help you achieve it.” Though I loved the book, I never really believed the message. There are too many examples from my own life and those of others that seem to refute it, but yesterday, my experience was undeniable.

The universe conspired to bring me something I wanted, even though I didn’t know why I wanted it. I put it out there, an invitation, and twenty-five years later to the very day, I was again surrounded and held with tenderness and love, in joy and celebration of being a family.

Last night, I looked through all the photos I took at the beach yesterday, of my siblings and Laura (yes, the then-girlfriend, but still dear friend), and their spouses and children, and I saw the Universe conspiring again.

Some of my crazy beach crew kids from the Bush,Wilson, Gebhard and Kirkpatrick families

Before we packed up, I made some of the kids pause for a picture. They did and then they started to pose themselves. They were laughing and falling, clamoring for the shot before they dropped their friend or cousin or sibling on the ground. I stared in disbelief at the photos last night at what I didn’t see when I was taking them. They were holding one another, like babies in their mother’s arms, like each of their parents had held Sarah on the day she was born.

Top: Molly holds Maddie B. while Finn photobombs Bottom: Maddie B. holds Sia G. and Nick holds his cousin Cole (who also just happened by!)
Molly and Wyatt Wilson take turns, while Nathan holds the love of his life, my sister Amy and Nick shows off his feats of strength by taking on Finn.

Last night as I lay in bed with Tim, I almost wept in surprised gratitude for the way it all came together, the way life unfolded and encircled upon itself, all in one day and in one fell swoop. I am so glad the Universe responded, even though I was blessedly unaware of the reason for my call.

I think that’s how the Universe conspires. It doesn’t necessarily bring us what we want to be happy, but it brings us what we need to be whole. It doesn’t respond to the dreams we broadcast out loud, but listens instead to the whispered longings of our soul. And when it shows up, whatever “it” is, we have to be open to it. We have to let go of what we think we need to be happy, so we can be present to the healing that’s possible in that moment, through the seemingly random confluence of people and places, songs and situations that filter through our days. Call it synchronicity, or quantum entanglement. Call it Love, or call it God, but no matter what, call It to you and then look for it to come.



As complete and beautiful as yesterday was, I wish Keara Moses, the daughter named in honor of, but NOT as a replacement for, her older sister, could have been there with us. I also wish my mom and dad could have been present. To see all of us together brings them such joy. Pam Kantrud, is another significant person from my life at that time. She was the mother of the family I lived with while I was pregnant, and she was there on Sarah’s birth day too, counting my breaths, rubbing my back, and cooing over the beauty of my newborn baby girl.

My mom and Pam, my fearless “midwives” who guided me through Sarah’s birth

And Sarah? Do I wish she was there too? Of course I do, but that’s a story for another time. In all things related to her, I work to find the delicate balance between loving her as my daughter and knowing she is someone else’s pride and joy, of calling her family, but respecting that she has her own. My own family, large and small, has all been able to spend time with her and I hope there will be ever more opportunities for that.

And finally, Tim. As I’ve mentioned before, he was there that day and every day since, holding my life in a tender embrace.

Tim Kirkpatrick


That's Good! That's Bad!

When my friend Laura first started teaching kindergarten, she had something called a “Listening Center” in her classroom with tape recorders, headphones and a selection of picture books with audiocassettes. Seeing those recorders lined up brought me back to my childhood days and the time I spent at the Huntington Beach Public Library. I would lounge on a bean bag with headphones on, in the library’s “Listening Center,” while my mom browsed the Adult Fiction, two floors away. Those were blissful moments for this nerdy little girl.

A few years later, when my own children were ready for picture books, I gleefully marched them into the public library, right up to my favorite childhood section, the picture books on tape, rack upon rack of auditory gold.

Although it has been many years since my children checked out a book on tape, there is one story I remember listening to with great fondness. It had a bright yellow cover, with a boy being lifted into the air by a big red balloon. The title was simply That’s Good! That’s Bad! by Margaret Cuyler. It was the story of a little boy floating and dropping, landing and hopping, all over a jungle, filled with wild animals. I remember the cadence of the readers’ voices as they chanted the refrain from the book’s title. The children on the CD would all cheer, “Oh, that’s good,” but the adult reader would quickly correct them, “No, that’s bad.” On the next page, the roles were reversed and what seemed bad would, in fact, turn out to be good.  Listening to the book was a pleasure, but the real joy came from my kids’ anticipatory giggles as they waited for the other shoe to drop, for what they thought was so clearly good, to be shown to be so obviously bad, and vice versa.

After listening to that book countless times over the years, you’d think I would have remembered the universal theme:

You can’t really judge if something’s good, or bad, until you turn the page. 

But gosh, that’s a hard truth to hold on to. Life is very much like that story book. Something happens that raises our spirits, and we silently cheer, Oh, that’s good! but it is quickly followed by the realization, No, that’s bad! Of course, the reverse holds true just as often, if not more so. We never really know if something is good, or bad, until much, much later, and even then, we can’t really be sure, because the story’s not over yet.

Of course, I’ve always been on this roller coaster of judgment, but it has really picked up speed since the Fall of 2008. My husband and I own a small retail business and the last three years have not been easy. Our lives and livelihood have been built around that business. Apart from his family, the ‘shop,’ as we lovingly call it, is his pride and joy. Since the start of the Great Recession, we’ve hit a lot of peaks and valleys. We’ve reinvented the way he works, the way I work, the way the business works, but it still seems like we are often groaning, Oh, that’s bad. However, we keep reminding ourselves, No, that’s good, because, unlike a lot of mom-and-pop stores, our doors are still open and we are still paying the bills, or at least most of them.

It works that way in my personal life as well. I go through my days, attaching too much significance to each and every thing that comes my way. I find myself thinking, “Oh, that’s good,” just to have something occur to me a moment later that has me convinced, “No, that’s bad.” It’s an emotional ping-pong game, and I am always the loser. Whether it is phone calls, emails, invitations, conversations, red lights, green lights, doctor visits, or burned dinners, I wish I were not so hasty to judge whether it is good news, or bad news. I wish I could remember that in life, there is always another page. The story isn’t over yet.

At the end of the children’s book, the boy is dropped back into his parents’ loving arms, where they greet him with a huge kiss and a sigh of relief. The children on the CD, confident that this is the end of the story, shout with all their might, “Oh, that’s good!” But the author surprises them with another twist. You have to turn the page, risking another fall, when she emphatically says, “No, that’s GREAT!”

The last page on the recession and it’s affect on my family and our way of life is still a ways off. My personal last page may come tomorrow, or it may be far away. I don’t have the answer to that. But what I do know is that I can end each day’s story by dropping into the arms of my loving family, holding them close and saying goodnight with a huge kiss. When I leave their bedrooms, teeth brushed and blankets tucked, I give a sigh of relief, knowing, that for now, “Oh, that’s good,” very, very good, indeed.

Afterword: If you are over 40, don’t have children, or think yourself above learning a lesson from a children’s picture book, here is a famous zen koan that imparts the same wisdom. It’s a great story, but not nearly as much fun.

There was an old farmer who worked hard on his little farm. There was never any money left over, but the farmer did have one sturdy, fine horse that helped the man and his young adult son with the farm labor.

One morning the farmer woke to find that the horse had broken out of the pen, and ran away. The neighbors came over, shaking their heads. They told the farmer that he had very bad luck. The farmer replied, “Good luck, bad luck. Who knows?”

The next morning when the farmer woke, he found that his sturdy, fine horse had returned, bringing with him a small herd of wild horses. The neighbors came over, nodding their heads. They told the farmer that he had very good luck. The farmer replied, “Good luck, bad luck. Who knows?”

Early the next morning, the farmer’s son was out breaking the new horses. The young man was tossed off a wild horse, and his leg broke. It was a bad injury, and the son would not be able to work for months. The neighbors came over, shaking their heads. They told the farmer he had very bad luck. The farmer replied, “Good luck, bad luck. Who know?”

The next morning, the army came through the village conscripting all young men to go and fight. His son could not go.

Good luck, bad luck? Who knows?