Moments Matter

Confessions of a Recovering ‘Bad Neighbor’

As a child growing up on a farm for the first seven years of my life, I hadn’t a care in the world. My days were spent running barefoot through wheat fields, chasing beautiful strutting peacocks and feeding scratch to our chickens.

We lived in a little red house with a large wooden porch and a barn nestled next to a busy highway on the outskirts of town. Being a young child, I was always told the highway was very dangerous. The extinction of my precious, beloved animals confirmed this month after month, year after year. It was even dangerous to pick up our mail. To retrieve mail we had to walk up a long cement driveway, open a large wire gate, then walk up another short hill. The mailbox sat on the edge of the highway with trucks and cars blowing past.

Occasionally, we’d bump into our neighbors riding their horse in the canyon, or picking up mail. My parents would chat for a bit about the weather, property issues and animal annoyances.

Hitchhikers were commonplace in the 1970s, and often came by asking for food and water. My parents rarely turned anyone away. We slept with our doors and windows unlocked most nights.

Which brings me to my point: my parents considered everyone a neighbor.

Consider that for a moment.

My parents rarely turned anyone away. Our home was a blessing to anyone who needed love, who needed a blanket, food or water.

My parents (middle and far right) during the 1970s with someone who started as a stranger in need, and later became a friend.

An old photo of my parents (middle and far right) during the 1970s with Dave. Dave was a stranger in need, and later became a friend.

#LWYL Revolution
Now as an adult, I look around my suburban neighborhood. The picturesque cottage homes sit tightly one next to the other. Lawns are neatly cut and the black paved streets are flawless. Yet, behind the doors there is happiness, laughter and joy. There is also anger, pain, sadness and depression. There are neighbors who embrace each other, while others won’t even wave.

The concept of loving our neighbors, city and community is a recent theme at Mariners Church headquartered in Orange County, California entitled “Love Where You Live” (LWYL). In a nutshell, the series cites the plethora of benefits to communities and the world if we loved our neighbors more. After all, would Jesus turn away from a friendly wave, or reject a complimentary plate of food?

No, He would not.

Please bare with me as this post is not one of being preachy, but rather a deep, personal inner reflection.

Evolution of the Bad Neighbor
During my lifetime, I have had the opportunity to live in a diverse number of areas – from the city, beach towns, farms, small towns, mid-size cities, mountain towns, to a suburban community. Even though each area had its own ups and downs, I feel that through the process I became somewhat jaded in loving where I lived.

The fear of going close to the highway mailbox had grown exponentially bigger.

For years, I lived in the city and I would pull my car into our condo garage and then quickly shut it to avoid talking to our neighbors. Another time, I recall driving home from a long day at the office, and impatiently honking my horn at the traffic on our urban street only to realize it was a fire truck with Santa greeting small children at Christmastime.

What had I turned into? Not a good neighbor that’s for sure. That little girl from the farm who gave water from a garden hose to strangers had faded.

Could she be revived?

Being a Good Neighbor, Again
After moving into the suburbs nearly 10 years ago, I was hardened and bitter. I had built huge walls to avoid developing relationships for fear of dangerous rejection and being hurt.

It has taken the encouragement of my social, extrovert husband and kids to pull me out of my shell. I am not saying now that I’m Mrs. Super Friendly neighbor, but I have taken chances to show my neighbors love. However, being a good neighbor has a deeper meaning than courtesies and friendliness. How about telling a neighbor you are praying for her during her upcoming surgery? Or, giving a neighbor a hug when you can see the type of day he’s having?

I now love where I live. It took the LWYL series to remind me of my roots of love and that same love that Jesus showed to complete strangers. Once again, my parents had it right: we should treat everyone like our neighbor.

What a beautiful, life-changing thought.

Do you Love Where You Live? Why? Why not?

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and Love your neighbor as yourself.” Luke 10:27


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Backing Out: A Parent’s Confession of ‘Helicopter Parenting’

You want to protect your kids from being hurt. Check each blind turn and corner.

Even though my eldest daughter is about to turn 10, in my own mind, she’s already driving a car. You’ve seen those TV commercials where babies or small children are driving cars, using a cell phone, or making a financial trade.

Yep, in my mind, she’s about to be handed the car keys.

Each time I back out of an especially tricky parking spot, I just can’t help but think that she’ll be doing the same dangerous maneuver someday. She’ll be plagued with blind spots – points where she won’t be able to see a speeding car or passerby.

37aI remember my dad instructing me in how to back out of my first parking spot.

“Go nice and slow, real slow, Kristal. Take your time,” he said in his deep voice. “Now, look through the window of the car next to you so that you can get a better view. Use the reflection,” he guided.

Continuing to back out slowly, I glanced in the side and rear view mirrors. Suddenly, I heard a honking horn from an oncoming car. I slammed on the brake and my head bounced off the headrest. I could feel my heart beat out of my chest and fingertips tingle.

“What did I say, Kristal?” my Dad scolded, while slapping his hands on his lap. “Look both ways again and again, go real slow and use the reflection and windows. Even though you can’t see, use what you have to make the best decision at the time. Okay, let’s try it again,” he said.

In the coming years, both my daughters will need to back out of parking spots alone with blind spots.

And, I’m petrified.

Helicopter Parenting
I had a conversation with a friend about the topic of helicopter parenting the other day. We pondered: Are we harming our children to a certain extent by being so involved?

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term helicopter parenting it is a “parent who pays extremely close attention to a child’s or children’s experiences and problems, particularly at educational institutions. Helicopter parents are so named because, like helicopters they hover overhead.”

Guilty as charged.

So how do I work on not being that overinvolved, overprotective parent? Instinctively, I want to fix and protect my sweet children from the harsh big bad world. What’s wrong with that?

Well, lots could be wrong with that.

Studies find that helicopter parenting may weaken your child’s ability to problem solve, creates a disconnect with natural consequences, fosters dependence rather than independence and so on…

Nearly 10 years ago when I became a parent for the first time, and was stressed and exhausted because my newborn would not sleep, my mom gave me some a simple, yet powerful piece of advice that I never forgot: “With five kids and three jobs, I just couldn’t get too involved in micromanaging you kids.”

I’m not saying, we shouldn’t not engage and communicate with our children. What I’m saying is that we (I) need to listen more and advise and fix less. (Hard swallow)

I know my girls will not only face blind spots, but they’ll be sideswiped more than once in life. The best I can do is to teach them to use those external and internal reflections to make decisions.

I just hope they hit the brakes in time.

How did your parents raise you when it comes to micro- or macro parenting? Do you have characteristics of being a helicopter parent with your own children?

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Fighting Collateral Divorce Damage

I remember the ugliness of it. The loneliness. The desperation. The loss. The pain.

She acted out to fill the hole now permanently left in her heart. She began to smoke and drink alcohol. Took pills. She snuck out her bedroom window at night to find anyone or anything to fill that void.images-1

Kim and I were neighborhood “friends,” but I tried to keep my distance. Even though her pain was spilling over, and I wanted to be there. I feared that she’d bring me down with her.

I had enough of my own problems.

As teen girls, we were neighbors for a short time. She was new to our junior high school. Her parents were “newly divorced.”

And there was the catch: Divorce.

Praying for Divorce

Even as a child, I prayed my parents would divorce. The fights at night could be unbearable at times. I would hide under my covers in the top bunk bed and pray they would just end it. “Why God? Please!” I would plead.

Divorce at the time seemed to be the better of two evils for my parents. And yet, my parents stuck it out for 44 years.

They didn’t give up on their marriage in the darkest of times.

And here was my lost, pained neighbor friend who was a casualty of divorce. The worst part of divorce is how it effects the children.

And why is divorce on my mind?

Divorce Rears Its Ugly Head, Again

“He told me it’s over. He doesn’t love me any more. I’m crushed…please pray.”

This is the message I received a few months ago from a good friend.

What’s the collateral divorce damage for her family? One little girl, one little boy, one dog, a parakeet, and a man and a woman who once loved each other…devastated.

Nearly 30 years later, I felt yet again the pain of another friend in the battle of this ugly thing called divorce. Rather than pulling away this time, I’m emotionally strong enough to support her in prayer and lending a listening ear.

My own husband and I are shocked by how many of our friends and neighbors are divorcing. They reach the 10, maybe 12-year mark, and then call it quits.

What happened?

Phil Donahue Sheds Some Light
There is no single answer. So long as people get married, there will be divorce.

Sadly, the previous 50 percent divorce rate is a distant, lingering memory. In California, divorce rates hover around 75 percent, and even higher in Orange County according to 2012 statistics.

In other words, a mere 25 percent have a chance at marriage in California.

I recall watching a “Phil Donahue Show” television segment that focused on divorce during the 1980s. In his trademarked closing message  the camera zoomed toward Donahue’s face. His blue eyes now serious behind the oversized spectacles, he reached into the rooms of viewers to share his painstaking insights about marriage and divorce. One line resonated with me as a teenager: “Marriage takes hard work by both partners.”

Regardless of whether I agree with Mr. Donahue’s political point of view was irrelevant. He knew these words all too well as a liberal divorced Catholic talk show host who was making a go in his second marriage. He had his own five “divorce-damaged kids” to prove it.

What’s Love Got to Do?
Now as a woman married for 13 years, I understand it takes a commitment to another person even when they are driving you crazy. It’s about patience and acceptance of each other’s flaws. Yes, it’s about love. But at the core, we wake up each day, hit the alarm and go about our day. Sometimes our marriages fall by the wayside because life gets in the way. We disconnect from one another. And before we know it, there is a stranger lying next to you. You are next to a person you once loved.

You wonder what happened. Life happened. You both let it get away. You let that love fly right out of your heart. I think Mr. Donahue had it right: It takes hard work to keep the sparks of marriage alive. To my knowledge, he has remained committed in his second marriage for the past 30 years.

After reading this post, I’d like to be all a rah-rah cheerleader and let’s stop this divorce rate in it tracks. I think the first step is admitting that we are broken, and we can’t do this thing called life alone and be happy. I would give anything to avoid the millions of troubled teenage Kim repeats, but I think the first step is admitting we are flawed, and we need to open up the conversation about divorce – it’s just not worth the collateral damage.

I leave you with video from Casting Crowns that speaks perfectly to the topic…”Broken Together.”

God bless.



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Breast Cancer Awareness Month Repost: Live Another Day

Editor’s Note: The post below was written last October. However, I find myself once again with the same dreaded thought as I lay on the exam table just a few weeks ago. The cold hands of my doctor pressing and pushing. Stepping away from the table I pop up while pulling the open gown over my breasts. I ask in a half nervous jest, “So, I need to have a mammogram again this year, right? Because of my risk?” I knew the answer. She quickly turned her head while at the sink, her eyes unflinching. “Yes, you need to do it,”  she said. I am once again facing the same fears, the same procrastination with making my mammogram appointment. Here’s to facing down fear.

“We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face… we must do that which we think we cannot.” – Eleanor Rossevelt


It sits idly. The letter. My heart beats another day. I feel the sunshine on my face. I listen to the doves nestled on my backyard fence. I envelop the smells of my daughters. I think about the letter, and what I need to do.

What I have to do.

Photo courtesy of Jenny Mason Photography.

Living another precious day with my family. Photo courtesy of Jenny Mason Photography.

Hundreds of miles away a woman lies on a cold exam room table. She holds her breath while the black marker tip lines her breasts and under her armpits. She tries to think of her daughter who is starting college, and her son’s football game.

But she can’t force out the thoughts that she could die of breast cancer. She could lose it all.

I pulled out the buried letter, and I was reminded of that brave friend. I was also reminded of my Aunt Diane, who underwent a double mastectomy.

I can’t wait any longer. It wouldn’t be right. Staring at the letter, I pinpoint why I am delaying the inevitable mammogram appointment.

The answer is pure and simple – fear.

So, I do this for my brave friend on the exam table. I also do it for my Aunt Diane – and for the countless number of families who lost the battle. I also make the appointment for those who are fighting breast cancer at this very moment.

Most importantly, I am doing it for the two little girls who call me “mom,” and my husband and best friend of the last 20-plus years.

As my husband encouraged me the past months: “Do it to live another day.”

I plan to do just that.

At this time last year, I wrote about my first mammogram, and my family’s history of breast cancer in a post “A Letter Like No Other.” If you haven’t made your mammogram appointment, call today. If you don’t do it for yourself, do it for someone else.

God Bless.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month is celebrated in October of each year to raise awareness for the disease that will affect approximately one in every eight U.S.-born women in their lifetimes.
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Breaking Free: A Story of Generational Freedom

Editor’s Note: I’ve taken a bit of a respite from writing on Clearly Kristal. Well, I’m back. I’m ready to write. To share in honesty and truth. As Writer Anne Lamott wrote in her book “Bird by Bird: “You string words together like beads to tell a smeonswingtory. You are desperate to communicate, to edify or entertain, to preserve moments of grace or joy or transcendence, to make real or imagined events come alive. But you cannot will this to happen. It is a matter of persistence and faith and hard work. So you might as well just go ahead and get started.”

So let’s get started…

“Well, do you want the place?” my mom asked.

I ran my hand along the kitchen counter and strolled towards the living room.

The internal dialogue and imagery in my head as an 18-year-old about to land her first place went something like this:

This place could be all mine! I envisioned the lights dimmed in the small living room. The music jumped, lights flashed, friends danced. The crowd was pumpin.

“So, what do you think, Kristal?” my mom prompted.


Snapping out of my daydream, I whipped, “Uh, ya, I’ll take it.”

She nodded her head, and then pointed to the window, and offered to sew paisley patterned curtains to match my futon. As we walked around the old vacated house, I sensed my mom’s underlying sadness.

I then imagined her dialogue:

I’ve lost her. She’s moving out. My baby.

The Swimming Pool House
This first place, though, was no regular house. This house was full of deep family history. It was owned by my mother’s father (my grandfather), who moved his family to California from New Mexico around 1955.

My grandfather had kept the house as a rental property. Over the years, the house was split into two separate living spaces with a tenant in each space. The inside of the house was simple with its thick carmel brown shag carpet and pasty white walls. In the living room was a wall and floor heater that made a loud ticking sound when blazing. The tiny kitchen had an old broken down dishwasher, but was equipped with a highly used microwave. Next to the kitchen leading to an outdoor patio was a double decker washer and dryer. I think you could fit five pieces of clothing in it total.

The hallway that connected to the living room led to the first bedroom on the left with a tiny closet and a big window. Continuing down the hallway on the right was a bathroom with pink and black checkered tile that had a lingering musty smell.

The outside of the house was something special. My grandfather had painted it fluorescent green during the 1980s. Hence the name “the swimming pool house” fit perfectly. Even though the color was awful and neighbors detested it, my grandfather loved the color. He was never one to follow the rules, but made his own rules up in life. Which is all the more reason I too loved this swimming pool-colored house.

Moving West
My grandfather had moved his family west for a better life in the mid 1950s. His youngest son was born with severe mental and physical “handicaps.” In the small New Mexico town with at least a thirty-minute drive to the nearest hospital, my grandparents consulted with world-renowned specialists to assess their “handicap” son. Their son’s prognosis was bleak at best. At the time, California provided the best state care for special needs individuals.

Around age 14, my mother was uprooted from her little southwestern desert town for sunny, hopeful California. After a few years of living in California, her mother, who had always been a rather bitter, uptight woman, began experiencing terrible headaches. They soon learned she had a brain tumor.

My mother lost her mother to the Lord during brain surgery at age 17. My grandmother was only 36 years old. By age 18, my mother broke away to marry her high school sweetheart. She packed her own boxes of memories from this very house. It wasn’t until years later, my mother admitted that she felt guilty for leaving her widowed father alone.

But she needed to break free.

Generational Freedom
Now more than 30 years later, we walked the same rooms. “I can still smell my mom’s gardenia perfume,” she said, taking a breath as we entered the bedroom. I inspected the closet with its thick wooden sliding doors. I tried to busy my mind with where my roommate, and I would put our twin beds and matching black lacquer nightstands.

Just before starting my freshman year of college, I packed 18 years of memories into boxes and carted them five miles away to the swimming pool house.

Yet, underneath all the excitement, I felt a sense of abandonment of my family. As the eldest sister to my two younger sisters, I was the leader and organizer. I kept as much as I could “together” when my dad was checked out on a drinking binge, and my mother was doing her best to keep up family appearances while working multiple jobs.

Like my mom, I was ready to carve out the world and make it my own. I needed to break free.

Now as a mom, I’m several short years away from my first child wanting to break free. Sometimes when tucking my two girls in to bed in the darkness of their rooms, I hold a long, close-up gaze. I want to freeze that moment in time. I make a mental note to hold that moment close to my heart before the tour of rentals and packing of memories begins.

Because I know someday they’ll daydream about the day they break free.

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A Repost: Bring It

Editor’s Note: As today marks the 11th Anniversary of that horrific day in America’s history, I dedicate this post to the victims, heroes and all those who lost loved ones.

There’s a beautiful canyon near my house that I occasionally run in the morning. The beauty of the landscape, wildlife and pure nature is breathtaking. When I don’t have my kids with me, the quietness of the canyon is tranquil.

During my run this morning there was a stillness in the air through the thick humidity. I poured sweat. I thought of today. The day in our country’s history that changed everything.

I thought about that morning. The towers and buildings falling. The planes. The heroes. The villains. The families.

Like the generations before us that immediately recall where they were when JFK and MLK were assassinated, we all remember where we were…

I recall my work had called and left message while I was in the shower to not come into the office. I came down our apartment stairs with dripping wet hair. I glanced at the television and then saw my husband’s face. He had tears in his eyes. Soon after, they hit the Pentagon. A place where my husband’s father had worked many times over the years.

In a quivering voice, my husband explained that he was relieved that his father was not alive to witness the attack on this landmark – a symbol of our freedom, our heritage. A place he connected to his father. This was personal now.

That morning my husband and I broke away from the media images to get some fresh air. Living in a crowded LA city, there was always the hustle and bustle. But that morning it was eerily quiet. You could hear the electricity lines buzzing. The streets and sidewalks empty.

In the afternoon, I ran out to the grocery store to grab some food for dinner. People in the store were moving in almost slow motion with looks of sorrow painted on their faces. I had felt guilty for grocery shopping. I should be mourning.

But this was only the beginning of the long road ahead for our country. The next day, I remember driving to work and listening to the radio. The heart-breaking stories of loved ones searching to find their mother, father, sister, brother…tears blinded my driving at one point.

I pulled over to sob.

I had not personally known a soul in the attacks that fateful day. Did that de-personalize my feelings of sadness? Absolutely not. I could feel their pain, their anguish. I prayed more in those days than I had in my entire life. Asking myself, “How could God let this happen? Why God? Why?”

At the time, I worked in a skyscraper building for a financial services company in Los Angeles. Security was beefed up, which drove home the realness of the situation. There was no laughter, only whispers. Lingering images of red eyes and empty tissue boxes filled the office cubicles.

Coming from a small town, my parents were concerned about me returning to work in a big building. My response: I will not live in fear. When I live in fear, they’ve won. I walked with my head held high. Let them come. Bring it.

While running today – 11 years later, the scenes of that day flashed before my eyes. I noticed a patch of what looked like white lilies in full bloom. I thought of the gravestones of those lost. But I also thought of their peace. Sweet peace.

Today I ran a little harder in honor of the fallen heroes. I even sprinted in the end. Winded, I thought of the firefighters making their way up the flights of stairs. Bring it.

After I finished my run, I sat on an old wooden fence next to the trail. I closed my eyes and prayed.

We will never forget.

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