The Real Neighbors of Ladera

Ladera Post

“Mom, you and dad do what? What’s this “crazy” business all about?”

My son stares me down as his eyes peep over the newspaper in his hands.

Weak Smile and Change the SUBJECT

**Note to self** Remember the words you write before you let your kids read it in the newspaper.

Here’s my last article from 4/19/2013.  I actually wrote this a while back but it just got published. Fortunately, I am out of the diaper stage, but I remember those days all too well!



I bumped into a cast member from “The Real Housewives of Orange County” at the Pavilions in Ladera Ranch the other day.

This lovely lass from Bravo’s hit reality show is my neighbor, if you count her living in the tract across the street as living in part of my hood, and I do, because somehow that makes me cooler.

We both had three kids trailing at our heels and our eyes met in a moment of “Lord have mercy on me,” or at least that’s what I was thinking with a crying baby, my son begging for coconut water that costs $5 per eight ounces and my daughter trying to assemble the perfect cake-making materials to create an atomic particle (will somebody please tell me how the heck to make positive ions out of frosting?).

Right about then it hit me who she was.

Trying not to be too obvious, I snuck glances. She was dressed in fancy workout clothes and her long blonde extended tresses were flowing around her shoulders. She had gobs of makeup on and was a perfect shade of bronze.

I, on the other hand, am proud to say I did not have snot or poop or baby barf on me.

It was a good day.

After checking out she walked up to a white BMW in the parking lot and then realized
it wasn’t hers.

She started mumbling cuss words under her breath and for the first time I saw a
“real” woman. The scenario was funny and dumb and something I would do.

And for a moment, I connected with a normal chick who struggles to remember where
she parked the car.

I loved it! I loved the messiness!

What I really want is a REALITY show where moms act like real moms -not dance moms
or cheer moms or duck moms -just moms.

I want to see a show where real women drive the 3 p.m. carpool in pink monkey
pajamas with bold panache.

How about a show that depicts the parents pretending to be asleep and then calling
each other names in the middle of the night as they fight over who will get up for
the third time with baby?

A show where parents turn on “Yo Gabba Gabba” and park their baby in front of the TV
and get crazy in the bathroom for five minutes because it’s the only time they have
to be intimate.

I want to see the show where real Ladera Ranch neighbors bawl and hug because it’s
been a bad day and we pull out the Skinny Girl margarita mix and encourage each
other to forgive and forget.

Where real mommies and daddies fight and make up and laugh at each other’s jokes,
because mommy thinks daddy is hysterical and adorable and the best thing that has
ever happened to her.

Real housewives do live in Ladera and our unscripted lives are infinitely more
interesting than a reality show that strives to capture our mommy “mojo” and falls
so far from the mark.

–Samantha Keller is a Southern California native, freelance writer, blogger, JSerra
High School football mom and local speaker on dating and relationships. She lives in
Ladera Ranch with her husband, Pastor Tim Keller, and their three children. Visit
her blog at

Scum of the Scum

I waved to my wailing baby, winked at daddy and dashed into an overcrowded Starbucks to grab a quick cup of Joe to get me through the afternoon.  The line was snaked around the corner and I tapped my foot anxiously as precious minutes slipped by. I glanced outside at the car which was now shaking with toddler angst and daddy’s frustration.

I should have walked out of the store then and there and been the kind and loving wife I long to be, but my head was throbbing from caffeine withdrawal and I justified that a happy mommy is much better than a cranky mommy and “gosh, gee, golly” I was really doing my family a favor. 

Besides, my teeth were already starting to hurt and once the teeth hurt a migraine must be lurking around the corner.

Finally it was my turn and I stepped up to the counter, ordered a triple Americano, gave them my name, paid and waited in the mosh-pit of caffeine addicted souls such as myself. After a few minutes, I saw what looked like my triple Americano in the hand of the barista.

Strangely enough the barista paused, looked a little baffled and then stared at the cup far too long.  I started to walk toward the pickup counter, now curious, when he called out the name on the cup, “Scum, your Americano is ready, Oh Scum, please pick up your drink.”

The noisy, jubilant over-caffeinated crowd quieted down to a whisper. I heard the plop-plop of the percolator and the swishing steamer heating cappuccino froth and the individual thump-thump of my own heart.

Here was my make it or break it moment. Do I walk out to the car empty-handed, wasting not only my family’s time and patience but my money as well, or do I suck it up and take the walk of shame to the counter and admit that I’m the scum?

When I think of “scum” images of lewd women brawling on trashy TV shows pop into my head; I see Casey Anthony at her trial and Sandra Bullock’s sad face after Jessie James humiliated her. Entitled, selfish, and crummy people leaving the world worse for the wear are scummy to me.

But if I’m honest, I have scummy moments too. Like now for instance-feeding my helpless husband to toddler mayhem to soothe my coffee addiction and stubbornly justifying this behavior as acceptable.

I’m often selfish, full of pride, slightly rebellious, sometimes defiant, and generally envious of expensive purses. I’ve hurt people and should be the last one to be throwing stones at anyone.  Without God, I am at best-the mutinous gelatinous scum on the scum of scum.

So, after a long painful pause, I made up my mind and decided to take the walk of shame. I strutted up to the counter and choked out, “Uhhh, yeah, hi!  So, I’m the Scum, thank you very much.”

And Starbucks erupted into laughter and even few claps.

Because, the truth is we all have scum in our hearts, it’s just tougher for some of us to own it.

Gas Stations and Beggars

“Sometimes I would like to ask God why he allows poverty, suffering and injustice when he could do something about it.”

“Well, why don’t you ask Him”

“Because I am afraid that He would ask me the same question.”-Anonymous


“Do you have any change? I ran out of gas and my kids and I are stranded,”

Startled, I backed up as the unfamiliar woman cornered me by my car as I filled it with gas.  It seemed like she had appeared out of nowhere and was now only inches from my face. 

“I’m so sorry, but I don’t have any money on me,” I explained, “Just my credit card.”

Sheepishly, she turned, and I started to breathe again when I realized she wasn’t going to rob me. She walked over to her car and my eyes followed her. She climbed in the front seat of a truck and I strained to see if there were kids in the vehicle with her. I didn’t see any, but I certainly wasn’t going to argue with her to cough up the kids before I gave her assistance.

I finished up at the pump and then started to frantically dig through my messy car to see if there were any quarters in the center console I could find for her.

My back was turned to the outside as I frantically looked for the coins, when I felt a light tap on my shoulder.  The hair on my neck rose as whipped around again.

In front of me stood a young blonde man, disheveled and in tattered clothes.  With a sad smile he asked me, “Do you have any money? I am trying to get to the beach.”

I shook my head no and climbed in my car and quickly shut the door.  Overwhelmed and feeling slightly hounded by all of the desperation, I started the car and drove off feeling conflicted and very much like Peter before the rooster crowed.  I suspiciously looked around for a third beggar.

“Ok God, I see them,” I muttered. “I see your people.”

I knew what God was up to. I had recently prayed a scary prayer.  Not the patience prayer (I am not that dumb) but the Bob Peirce prayer (the founder of World Vision). 

I had prayed with determined trepidation (like the great wuss I am) for my heart to be broken by the things that break the heart of God.

And now He was doing it.

Only the night before, I had shared with my husband how I felt God was stirring up in me compassion for the poor and needy.  I felt a sadness and burden for the oppressed that was rather foreign to my crusty and self-absorbed heart.  Every day, disturbing stories were coming across my path that brought me to my knees and a fire of righteous anger was beginning to slowly build inside my belly.

My husband asked me what my part was in this revelation.  I said there were two things.  I felt a tangible distance, almost desensitization from the magnitude of suffering in the world and secondly, I sensed God wanted me to write about it. 

The gas station, by the way, was in Anaheim, not some seedy part of Los Angeles or Santa Ana. Lately, I’ve been approached by beggars in the parking lot of Target in Mission Viejo, and repeatedly by a mother toting a little boy inside the Starbucks in Ladera Ranch.

The tentacles of poverty are spreading closer and closer to the insulated bubble communities we’ve built to keep it out. 

And suddenly, I can’t compartmentalize it all anymore; this mental box of poverty I’ve created that includes mission trips to Mexico and the sad little faces of children in Africa.  It’s not the separate place I make it out to be so I can sleep better at night.  Poverty is all around us and it’s too blatant for me to put it back on the shelf or cross off on a list of benevolent activities I do on a quarterly basis.

Honestly, poverty scares me. More than anything I think it’s the desperation.  Somehow, I’ve equated the poor with violence, and while they often do go together, I know they aren’t the same. Poverty seems to be more about limited options than aggression. But they get mixed up when I avoid the issue altogether.

I am afraid of changing and drawing close, but I am more afraid of doing nothing now that my eyes have been opened.

I wish I had some money with me in the car the other day. Although, reflecting on it later, it’s not like I couldn’t have bought the woman gas with my credit card.  My fear at times is paralyzing.

But next time, well…next time, I’ll be ready for the little tap on the shoulder.  In fact, I’ll be expecting it.

Image: dan /

The Birthcontrol Pill in Jr. High?


In line at Starbucks the other day, my seventh grade son grabbed a caramel macchiato from the barista, winked at me in gratitude, and headed out the door for the patio.  A group of Jr. High kids passed on the way out and gave him a subtle, but clear, “what’s up” in the form of a nod and cool appraisal. My son casually nodded his head back in response.

When we walked outside to join my husband and baby, I suggested my son might want to go and hang with his friends.  His face lit up and he sauntered over to the group, shared some high fives and sat down.  These were friends from school I didn’t recognize.  They appeared to be more mature than his usual sports buddies; it was a co-ed group and the girls looked about sixteen, though I knew they were barely teens.  

The kids were also unsupervised, raising instant red flags in the back of my mind, and so my husband and I watched them curiously.  We tried to look cool and blasé, but were staring none the less.

One pair in particular stood out, a boy and girl who looked a little too friendly with each other.    Completely oblivious to the world, the kids couldn’t keep their hands off each other.  The girl leaned back into the boy’s arms. Her bottom snugly tucked into his lap and his arms wrapped tightly around her waist.   Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream played in my head. 

It was an intimate act that suggested pure sex.  Generally, those kinds of lap wiggles are reserved for the bedroom or private Jacuzzi.  Clearly, certain  boundaries had already been crossed and if they weren’t already sexually active, then they were getting close. Either way, it was inappropriate and shocking. It was a blatant “get a room” kind of move that makes people uncomfortable.  I was even more surprised at their audacity, as if they were unaware of social norms and space, or parents in particular.

And there sat my baby boy in the midst of these horny teenagers.  My sweet and innocent little angel corrupted by tarts and P Diddies.  (Ok, possibly an overreaction, but I am relatively confidant my son is still pure) And I got scared and a little sad.  Because, the truth is I can’t protect him from a culture that is hyper sexualizing everything down to tennis shoes.

On the way home, I questioned my son about his friends.  He mentioned the affectionate couple was dating.  I strained to remember what dating in Jr. High meant.  All I could remember was spin the bottle at parties, holding hands and possibly a first kiss for the kids who were going out. (Where “out” was, we will never know?)

 After a little research, from the Culture and Media Institute, I discovered the average age for a youth in the United States who is sexually active has now dropped down to age fourteen. The general consensus among the public seems to be reluctant acquiesce.  In Portland Maine (2007), the school board voted to allow birth control pills to be distributed to children as young as eleven.  Maine also dropped the age limit for sex to be considered illegal down to fourteen.

More disturbing than these statistics are the disparity of messages we are sending our teens.  “Don’t have sex, but if you do, here is how you put a condom on a banana.”  Hmmm? It’s as if no one believes saying no is an option. 

Why can we Just Say No to drugs but throw in the towel on children having sex?  Clearly, there will still be defiant and curious kids that will engage no matter what, but the message is still the same…avoid at all cost.  I am concerned why this message is applicable to one and not the other?

The morning after the Portland school board approved the measure allowing birth control to be distributed in the school, NBC’s Today Show featured Meredith Vieira and Dr. Nancy Snyderman, the network’s doctor-on-call. 

As Dr. Snyderman said, “Middle school kids are having sex!” Rather than letting that be a call for contraception, shouldn’t it be a wakeup call to our culture? If 11-year-olds are having sex, there are greater problems that need to be addressed than any pill can ever hope to cure … or prevent.

I agree with Dr. Snyderman in the bigger issue our culture faces. I would suggest that in the absence of a compelling reason to not have sex, we have just raised the white flag.  If no one will fight for teen abstinence and purity in light of the constant sexual barrage by the media, then we have already conceded. Why should any kid care if no one is willing to take a stand?

After we gently questioned our son, my husband and I walked home from Starbucks with him and talked openly about sex, love and what God has to say about it.  And that day, we took a stand; ready for a battle we may lose, but willing to fight against a culture where sex sells and little girls take birth control pills with their chewable vitamins.

Too Much Frivolity

How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Image via Wikipedia

I am a survivor of Christmas overload.  Seven parties in seven days, and three more to go. There should be medals for this kind of dedication to frivolity.

I love parties.  I love Christmas.  But I don’t love the exhausted, bloated feeling that goes along with the Christmas party.  Call me undisciplined, fallacious even…but night after night of decadent temptation starts to crumble the walls of careful self-preservation and eventually, caution is thrown to the wind, carbs are embraced, and the culinary delights of the season are succumbed to.

Christmas is such a strange animal.  People overeat, overspend, and drink too much for a solid month, leaving them pudgy, broke and hung over by New Years.  Entitlement aside, deep down, we all know that Christmas doesn’t have to be this gluttonous and yet setting boundaries on fun proves to be much easier said than done. 

It’s not an obvious seduction, like drugs or illicit compromise; true Christmas party overload is inherently subtle.  It’s one sip of wine at a time, two late nights justified, then three more. It’s going back for seconds at the buffet table and avoiding the gym because there is “just so much to do.”  Bustle, bustle, justify, justify…and then, all of sudden you can’t zip up your pants.

If someone offers me a cigarette, it’s easy to say no because I am not a smoker, nor do I intend to be one, but when it’s your mother pushing the most divine pecan pie known to man, the boundaries start to blur…a lot.

Moderation seems to be the obvious solution, when we veer towards excess, but it’s a tough sell to say no to “just one more” party, the last cookie in the office basket and the mocha swirl sample at Starbucks

The Grinch said it well, “Maybe Christmas, doesn’t come from a store, perhaps maybe Christmas, means a little bit more.”

And so, maybe contentment at Christmas parties comes with less and not more, maybe finding the “more” is simply saying “no more.”

Secret Santa

Starbucks on Briggate

Image via Wikipedia

I got that giving itch from God today.  A little tickle on my spirit, saying “My daughter, do you see I have a child in need?”

Every now and then, this burden descends upon me to give financially to a specific person. It’s as if God is sitting on my heart and pressing, firmly adjusting my internal vision to see the crisis at hand and move towards it on behalf of my Father’s will. 

I have learned through trial and error to heed this call, avoiding second-guessing and justification,(i.e., does He really want me to go without my monthly Sushi treat or Starbucks?) choosing simple obedience and giving out of my blessings, or lack thereof, depending on the season.

The first time I felt this compulsion to give, I drove over to the family’s home that I felt God nudging me towards and handed them a check.  And though it felt good to be obedient, taking credit for the giving proved anticlimactic.  It felt awkward and rather prideful taking on the role of a Christmas benefactor.

There I stood at the door, having no idea what to say. Somehow, “Hark, I bring tidings of good will and generosity,” didn’t seem appropriate.

The “secret sauce” was missing and the key factor was taking “me” out of the equation and adding in the actual “secret.” 

The next time God put someone on my heart; I got out-of-the-way and allowed Him to be the Giver of all Good Gifts.  I simply played the humble steward, using the gifts and talents He had given me to run his estate. 

And yes, this time my joy was complete.  I got to watch God get the glory and revel in the delight of being a small part of an answered prayer.

Remaining anonymous is like playing Secret Santa without the big reveal, where only you and Jesus know who the real Santa is.  It’s a covert mission from God for the average Christian, a little slice of heaven, to be eaten in the company of angels and not men, for the rewards of this obedience can only be seen in the celestial realm.

When a financial gift is given to someone in need, and the giver remains hidden, something mysterious happens in the spiritual world.  The person sacrificially given to, though they know not of the giver, has become all the more tender.  They have secretly joined in on a “story” of God’s provision.

When I encounter someone whom God financially blessed through me, there is an unexpected seed of compassion deeply rooted in my heart that God has planted.  It’s completely beyond my normal and slightly selfish paradigm, unnatural even, but effortless because of God.  It is His love weaving through my crusty heart to bless both the giver and recipient.

My story and their story intersect, our journeys of faith swirled in layers of sacrifice, obedience, comfort and provision. 

So when the Christmas bonus comes this week, what face comes to mind? A single mom you know, the unemployed father sitting next to you in church, or maybe the family losing their home in your neighborhood?   

But please, oh please…don’t forget the “secret sauce” when you put on that Santa Suit!

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