Saturday, January 28, 2012

When a Good Guy Wins

Last year at this time we were deep in negotiations to purchase our current home. HSBC bank had foreclosed more than six months earlier on the previous owner, and based on their behavior with us, we could see why the previous owners lost the house. Not only did the bank not budge an inch on anything, but they used what seemed to us to be deceptive ploys to bring in what would be small amounts of money for the bank but large amounts for us. For example, because we were using a VA loan and the VA almost always requires some repairs prior to approving a loan, the bank asked us to increase our offer by $5K. We did. Then the loan officer inspected and required $2600 in repairs, including removing some molding beneath the deck. The bank's contractor said it would cost $2600 to make the repairs, and the bank told us that before we could close, we would have to pay the bank's contractor to do the repairs. When we pointed out that we neither owned the home nor had any legal documentation that would require the bank to sell the house to us, we would be paying for repairs on someone else's home with no guarantee of having that home become ours. The bank refused to budge and said that if we did not pay, it would rescind its acceptance of our offer and put the house back on the market and keep our escrow.

We contacted a lawyer who said the requirement was likely subterfuge for the bank to wiggle out of an offer that it no longer liked because the market had significantly improved during the time that we had been negotiated and our house had increased in value by $65K. Sure enough, he was right. While we were still discussing the deck and under-deck repairs, the bank re-listed the property without identifying the address or location. However, they picture they used of the driveway had a small white car trucked parked on the street on the google map that they had used to download and post the picture. Donnie called up our house-to-be on google maps, and sure enough there was the little white truck! The lawyer dictated a letter in which we demanded our escrow back if the bank was unwilling to do the repairs.

At that point, Jack, the loan officer for VA, called and asked if we wanted the house if the deck issue could be worked out. When we affirmed, he offered to split the cost of the $2600 between himself and the bank's real estate agent. (Our biggest mistake was to call the real estate agent listed on the for-sale sign; she worked for the bank.) His suggestion took away the danger of losing the house while paying for repairs unless the bank wanted to financially harm its own real estate agent. We agreed, which I am sure put the dishonest real estate agent in a difficult position. The bank wanted the property back, but if she paid the repairs, it would not be able to take it back. Of course, both Jack and she made decent commissions on the house, but in each case it was $1300 less than they would otherwise have earned.

Jack was a gentleman, but the real estate agent took one final swipe at us. The bank's contractor had disassembled the affected part of the deck and removed the mold but had not replace any of the bad wood when the day came for closing. The real estate agent looked at us triumphantly as we looked forlornly at the gaping hole in our deck and said that we had two choices: close "as is" at that moment or wait for the contractor to finish the deck, in which case our offer would be turned down and the house put back on the market and our escrow retained. (Same old story; same old subterfuge.) It was well planned. The closing was on a Sunday, and there was no way to contact our lawyer to see if the bank could get away with that. A handyman friend who planned to paint the house and do other minor repairs had come with us, and he said his brother could finish the deck for $300 and that we should take the house as is because its value was higher than we were paying. So, we did.

We have always been grateful to Jack for coming up with this out-of-the-box solution and for his kindness in paying in our stead. There was no way in which to repay this kindness except with words (and, of course, references). Recently, however, we have been bombarded with all kinds of loan companies wanting to refinance our house for a significantly lower interest rate. Apparently, VA rates have dropped. So, of course, we thought about Jack, sent him copies of the offers, and asked for his advice. He said that most of these really low rates are come-ons with impossible strings attached, with the result being that most people will not qualify for the lowest rate but a higher one. Given that rates are dropping, he did a calculation on what we could realistically do and determined that we could refinance for a somewhat lower rate and save $200 a month. Over thirty years, that would be a significant savings. So, we authorized him to proceed.

In doing a good deed last year, Jack lost $1300. This year, he will probably make ten times that much on the refinancing. Somehow, that tickles me!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Make Your Desire the Other Person's, Too

People quickly acquiesce when there are no other options. Getting your own way is usually as simple (and complex) as making your option the only one possible. I have watched two of my own children as middle schoolers do that quite effectively.

Each time we have moved into a new school district the tendency had been to place Noelle in special education because of her paraplegia. However, she preferred to be in regular education and was able to handle the academic work there quite well. When we moved to California from Washington in Noelle's eighth grade year, the school administration's proposal was once again to place her in special education.

When Noelle indicated her preference for regular education, the principal explained that all children who cannot walk had always been placed into special education, and, therefore, she would, too.

"Well, then," Noelle commented, "I wonder how you are going to handle the problem that comes with that placement."

When the principal asked what problem she was talking about, she said, "Clearly, I'm the one who has to go to the classroom every day, and I do not intend to go to that one." She was placed in regular education and was very happy there.

The principal met his match, as well, in her younger, gifted brother Shane, who was in her grade because he had skipped some earlier grades in school. The principal wanted to place Shane in the Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) program. however, Shane looked through the materials and found them unchallenging. He preferred to make his own program through the Independent Study program. Frustrated by Shane's lack of appreciation for the GATE program (and probably feeling the need to have another GATE student in the school program), the principal explained that being in the Independent Study program would bar Shane from school dances and other such activities. Shane replied that he preferred books to social activities and willingly accepted that restriction.

Seeing that his words had no effect, the principal said in a rather frustrated tone, "You don't understand! You have to have a behavior problem to get into the Independent Study program!"

Very calmly and pleasantly, Shane indicated that he would be willing to meet that entrance requirement, saying, "I could develop one if you would like." He was placed in Independent Study and was very happy there.

Noelle made her option. Obviously, no one could physically force her to go to a particular classroom on a daily basis and monitor her to be sure she stayed there all day. The alternatives to her choice were simply too cumbersome, impossible, or undesirable.

Shane also made his option the only choice. Of course, the principal did not want another child with a behavior problem. He could avoid that in only one way -- by meeting Shane's request.

These two children very much enjoyed their middle school years. Noelle learned far more in regular education than she would have learned in special education and passed the state exams just fine for regular education students. Shane immensely enjoyed his learning situation. His teacher had been a gifted education teacher in earlier years and was one of the few teachers who did not fear Shane's ability to inhale information and question assumptions. For math, the teacher asked Shane to work with a tutor from the local college because Shane learned too fast for the middle-school teachers to keep up with him. She learned incredible amounts of math that year, in addition to completing most of the high school program in other subjects -- all while being in a "punitive" program rather than the GATE program that, ironically, would have asked far less of him. It was, indeed, a good year.


Excerpted and adapted from a collection of vignettes I published, copyright 2003.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

News One Never Wants to Hear

A few weeks ago, I received a chilling note from my sister-in-law, Erin, Willie's wife. The note began with the words, "I am sorry to tell you that your brother is likely to become a widower soon." That was certainly not your traditional greeting, and Erin had definitely grabbed my attention. I thought that perhaps Erin was being melodramatic, but, no, that was not the case. Erin went on to say that during a routine examination, the doctor had found a mass in her lung and wanted to see if he could remove it with surgery.

To make a long story short, he could not remove it. It was too close to the artery. He wondered what more there was, and what else was going on, but he was only a general surgeon. So, he sent Erin to an oncologist. Since then, we have been waiting for the other shoe to drop, hoping that the news, assumed to be bad, would be at least tolerable. Maybe it was not cancer but just a growth. Maybe it was something that could be shrunk with chemo.

On Friday, the news arrived: Stage IV lung cancer, both lungs. While it is not a death sentence, it is frighteningly close. Less than 10% survive. Still, obviously, one hopes to be in that 10%.

So now what? That decision has to be Erin's. The choices appear to be heavy chemo, light chemo, and nothing (just let nature take its course). Whatever she chooses, we, her family, will support.

Years ago, my former secretary was living near and working on a military installation close to the medical center to which I had rushed Doah when I stole him from the hospital in our home town. Having arrived in a distant city and needing to be near Doah, I took a job at the military installation, where my former secretary, Dee, was working. When the hospital released Doah, I needed a place to stay with him; the place I was in would not allow him. Most places did not want to deal with the special medical equipment that Doah needed. Dee learned about this and offered us a bedroom at her house. She was alone because her husband of many years had left her. She welcomed company. And so Doah and I got to know her children and grandchildren, and they got to know us. We became one large family and stayed in touch for years and years until Dee developed a brain tumor.

Like Erin, Dee learned about the tumor when it was already at stage IV. She made a very surprising decision. Rather than going immediately for treatment, she decided to take 6 weeks and visit all her relatives across the country, people she had not seen in years. Living in Massachusetts, she had quite a lot of territory to cover, having relatives in Virginia, Texas, and the Midwest. I was delighted that she included our family among her relatives. Her last stop was at our home in California. She stayed with us for a week, mostly reminiscing since she was too weak to do much sightseeing although we did make it to the wharf and a few other gentle spots. Upon return, her doctor operated on her brain tumor. Dee did not survive the surgery. Somehow, though, it was an amazing end to a life. How many of us get to say good-bye to all those we love? When Dee left my home, she was ready to leave this life, peaceful about whatever alternative presented itself from the brain surgery.

How we die is probably as important as how we live. At some point, we all have to face our own mortality. Clearly, it is not easy. Although we do not yet know what Erin will choose to do, or whether she will beat the odds (we certainly hope God will intervene; sometimes God does do that and has done that very frequently with our family), we want to send Willie and her on a directed spiritual retreat to help her make her choices in a peaceful, beach location and with the help of nuns trained in guiding people in such circumstances. How wonderful that such places exist!

Stay tuned! I will try to provide periodic updates. In the interim, as you feel moved to do, would you please pray for Erin and, if you can, light a candle for her? And if you have experienced this in your family, please share what you have done to support the person struggling with both the news and the medical condition.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

An Amazingly Stupid Day


Yesterday turned out to be an amazingly stupid day.  It started out not bad. I had had an overnight guest and so ended up with a leisurely morning, taking her back home and going in to work late. 
Upon arrival, I was delighted that the construction folks popped into my new office, to which I moved right before Christmas, to see if they could put up some shelves to hold "stuff" that had been on one bookcase in my old office that I had to give up in the move because my new office would not hold that many bookcases. Of course, they could! A quick task, right?
No, not so. A couple of hours later they were still working on those shelves, and I had to attend a mandatory meeting in my conference room. Just in case, I took my purse with me. 
After the meeting, I had to help out some of the attendees and forgot about the purse. Then, all kinds of problems and promises (incoming new managers) grabbed my attention, and I worked until 10 p.m. 
As I got ready to go home, I realized I did not have my purse and could not get into the conference room. Everyone had departed, including the security folks with the master key. I called my operations folks, but, it being Friday night, they were probably out partying. At any rate, they did not answer. 
I thought I might have to spend the night there, but when I gave up and went into the parking lot to drive home (thank goodness, I did have my car keys, just not my license, money, and the like), I saw two police who monitor our building talking to each other at the far corner of the lot. I grabbed them and found out that yes, the police did have a master key! Voila! Problem solved.
Purse retrieved, home I came. I arrived just in time to catch the 11:30 Jay Leno show. It was good to laugh at someone other than myself for a change.
 (These are the events that one just accepts as a part of the very strange life we live on this earth!)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Noelle Has a New Bed

It seems that we have beds on the mind these days. Not long ago I wrote about Doah's bed, which Doah used as late as New Year's Eve, staying overnight in our guest room, ostensibly to see the new year in but in reality getting a good night's sleep instead while Donnie partied alone. (I, too, fell asleep early.)

Noelle's bed is another matter. It was our Christmas gift to her, and I cannot describe it without writing a mini-commercial for the Number Bed. To do that, I have to go back about six months.

Around nine months ago, Donnie suggested that we look into purchasing a Sleep Number Bed. He and I have separate firmness needs. I have a broken back (compression fracture at the T-5 level in 1980 that had me in a back brace for three months), and I cannot sleep on a soft bed. (Hotel beds can leave me in pain in the morning.) Donnie loves soft beds; his weight makes it difficult for him to sleep on a bed with the level of firmness I need. With the ability of the Sleep Number Bed to split firmness between sleeping partners, it seemed like a good choice. So, off we trotted to the Sleep Number Bed store, where we learned our "numbers." On a scale of 1-100 of increasing fimness, Donnie's "number" was 40, and mine was 100. No wonder we have had trouble sharing a bed for the past 30 years! The Number Bed was not cheap. I blanched at the cost: in the thousands (although a bed can be obtained for less than a thousand, depending upon sleep needs and local sales). Given the 30-day guarantee of return and the offer of credit to spread payments over two years, I figured it was worth trying out. Indeed, it was. I have not had any back pain since; neither has Donnie. The bed has remained.

When Noelle heard about our experience with the bed, she volunteered that she wished she had a bed like that because she was always in pain when waking up in the morning. Not sure whether the bed would be helpful with spina bifida back issues, we nonetheless ordered a bed as her Christmas present. Same deal: return in 30 days if not satisfied. The cost at $1300 was well beyond any amount we had ever spent on Christmas, all kids' gifts together, yet would be worth it if it helped Noelle. Again, we were able to spread out the payments over two years, making the cost manageable. Talk about the perfect Christmas gift! Noelle has spent the past week telling everyone who will listen how much her life has changed now that she has a bed that will perfectly match her firmness needs.

I cannot recall commercializing for a particular company on this blog before. However, in the case of the Sleep Number Bed, I am a fan -- a fan without back pain. (I imagine that there are other beds that will meet similar needs. I did not test out tempurpedic beds, for example.) If any reader or any reader's family members is waking up with back pain, I recommend looking into the possibility that the Sleep Number Bed will make a tremendous difference in your life.

End of commercial...

Monday, January 2, 2012

Danielle's Prayer

The following post is a tad long, and for that I apologize. I don't really know how to shorten it, however. It comes from a section of my latest book, A Believer-in-Waiting's First Encounters with God, and tells the story of a special prayer petition made by my sister Danielle when she was very young. I hope you enjoy it.

The “8-pack,” a moniker given to my seven younger siblings and me by my brother Rollie, suffered immense abuse during our childhood. My sister Katrina, in fact, never planned on growing up, certain that she would be killed by our mother before achieving adulthood. However amazing, we all did survive the extensive physical abuse (e.g., being stabbed, thrown into walls, kicked into unconsciousness, pulled down flights of stairs by the hair, and much more), emotional abuse (e.g., being negatively compared with each other, denigrated at every opportunity, and, in one instance, forced to sit on the stairs for hours, expecting to be deliberately set on fire at any moment), and sexual abuse (various male relatives had their way with both the boys and the girls). We had each other for support: the 8-pack was very important to all of us in an age when neighbors and teachers looked the other way. Remarkably, contrary to what most of today’s psychologists would expect, we reached adulthood without any lasting evidence of physical abuse or any significant emotional scars.

After coming to faith, I commented to God, “If only You had been with me during those earlier, difficult days, how much easier it would have been.” To that, a quiet, impressive Voice that still startles me when I hear it, responded “I was with you.” Had I only known!

That interchange reminds me of the experience of St. Anthony, the third-century desert father. As described in The Life of Anthony of Egypt by St. Athanasius, St. Anthony once hid in a cave to escape demons. The demons reached him anyway and seemed to have beaten him to death. His servant brought him out from the cave, and the other hermits prepared to mourn his passing when he unexpectedly revived and demanded that his servant return him to the cave. There he called out to the demons, who returned to attack him. This time, they were stopped by a bright light which Anthony knew to be the presence of God.

“Where were You before,” asked St. Anthony, “when the demons were beating me so badly?”

“I was here,” God replied. “I wanted to wait and see how well you fought for yourself.”

Telling this to Danielle as we walked about the moon-flooded Maine woods one night while visiting my brother Keith, I remarked that I found it unfathomable as to why we would be so protected by God. One can find any number of stories about children who did not survive abuse. Why should we receive special treatment? She looked at me curiously and said, “I thought you knew.”

“Knew what?” I asked.

“What all the rest of the 8-pack knew.”


“The very first thing I remember in my life—I think I was only two or three years old—was realizing what a predicament we were in, and I said a prayer: ‘Dear God, Dad is gone all the time, and Ma is a child. So, would You please raise us?’”

It took more than fifty years for me to learn about that prayer. Upon reflection, I believe that neither my siblings nor I were ever far from God’s sight, protection, intentions for our lives, or even the tendency to use us to help others. That could only have been the case if God had answered the prayer of a precocious toddler.

Why would I think that God answered that prayer? Because I am alive today, having survived a dangerously abusive childhood. Because my children are alive today in spite of two having been born with multiple birth defects so severe that doctors gave them little hope for survival, let alone the generally healthy and happy lives that they now lead. Because I have been chronically happy all my life when a person not protected by God might have attempted suicide. Because I am incurably optimistic even though I endured years of poverty and seven clinical deaths of my children. Because I can see where my siblings and I have been used for improving human conditions and helping people in ways that we could not have accomplished alone. And maybe mostly because I don’t know where the parachute has always come from when I have been in the process of falling off a cliff if it has not been being held out to me by God. I have always taken the parachute. I never used to say thank you because I did not think that there was Anyone to thank. At the same time, I never questioned that there would be a parachute if I needed it. It would appear that I had a tacit relationship with God on a subconscious level while totally oblivious to any sense of God in the conscious world.
In today's Monday Morning Meditation on 100th Lamb, I discuss Hosea 11:3, in which God tells of teaching His people to walk, holding his people in His arms (depending upon the translation), and otherwise being with His people -- with their being fully unaware of Him. How sad! (How much sadder to have been part of that group -- and how happy to have found out in time not only about Danielle's prayer but also about the reality that Hosea 11:3 describes!)

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year! Welcome, 2012!

Wishing one and all a blessed 2012, which has dawned bright and sunny here in San Ignatio. Along with it has arrived my first decision of the new year: whether or not to take revenge on Donnie.

As usual, Donnie and I had made plans to welcome in the new year with a mini-party. Some champagne. A few snacks. And Doah.

As usual, I feel asleep and became nigh onto comatose around 10:30. Doah lasted another hour, then toddled off to bed, emerging, according to Donnie, around 12:30 in the morning, like a groundhog on Feb. 2, saw his shadow, and scurried back to the bedroom.

As for me, I never did wake up. Donnie, ever the photographer -- and, in this case, as is typical of our New Year's eve celebrations, the lone celebrant -- took a picture of me zonked out on the couch and pasted it on Facebook. Of course, that brought it a lot of comments!

Now, he is sleeping in after all his heavy partying, and I am wide awake, greeting the sunny day and new year. Doah is dancing about, demanding breakfast, and I am ever so tempted to take a picture of Donnie, zonked out in bed, and paste it on Facebook!

Happy days and interesting decisions, my friends, I wish you in 2012!

(note: image from -- it stunned me; hope you like it)

Search This Blog