The Illusion of Safe

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I am lulled into thinking certain things to be true. 

(Basically I lie to myself so I can go to sleep at night)

I tell myself a good a neighborhood is a barrier from the bad guys of the world.

I tell myself I am safe.

I live in Ladera Ranch –an awesomely Disney-esque suburb.  It’s supposed to be exempt from murder and rape and break-ins and a thousand other awfuls –or at least that’s how they justify our exorbitant property taxes.

But Ladera Ranch is a place, like any other place where a “neighbor” can  commit a heinous atrocity.

The darkness of the human heart isn’t finicky about addresses.

I thought about this long and hard after driving my kid’s to school yesterday morning as I watched helicopters and police cars circling around our little neighborhood. 

A shooting rampage that began in Ladera Ranch and traveled all over Orange County was underway. 

I wasn’t so sure I wanted to drop off my kids.  Kolby’s preschool and Faith’s middle school were only about two minutes away from yellow tape and a dead body. 

Mostly I just wanted to hug my kids and hubby and hold them close and I couldn’t relax until I knew the suspect was dead. 

One of my friends whose child attends my daughter’s school confronted the administration a week ago about school security.  They claimed “stuff like that never happens here” and “we don’t want to inconvenience the parents.”

LaderaRanchFront

Hmmm?

Last week we had a massive manhunt for Christopher Dornier-the cop killer.  A few months ago a guy tried to blow up a bridge next to my office with enough explosives to take out a mile radius.   Now this teenager from my own neighborhood has gone Rambo on us. 

Am I the only one who feels like simply opening the front door these days is an adventure? 

A few weeks ago the police informed us our own block had been cased and multiple homes robbed.  One man posed as a solar panel vendor and the other as a magazine salesman.  In truth, they were going door to door assessing homes to see if anyone was on the premises.

Both came to our home.

I slammed the door in the face of the fake solar home salesman after he yelled at me for not wanting to save money on my electric bill.  Let me say that again…a man came to my door and yelled at me for not buying his product.

I was astounded any solicitor would yell at a potential customer. 

At least now I have clarity.

The other young (mid-twenties) man came to the door and met my husband. 

Tim took the young man out on the porch and sat down with him.  I offered him lemonade and he kicked back and chatted with Tim for about thirty minutes.  We ended up giving him $40 for a magazine I imagine we will never get. 

But he didn’t rob us-either because we were home or because we bought him off or maybe because he liked us.

Three other homes were not so lucky.

I wonder if my husband’s effort to build a relationship with the robber made a difference.

Did my lemonade and smile thaw out his desperation?

As my mind tries to wrap itself around the pain, I try to make sense out of the senseless.  I want to know why and how and analyze ALL the details.  I watch the news like an investigator and try to peice the clues together.  But deep down -if I am honest, I know my job is simple… it’s to pray to God, surrender and look for opportunities to love.  Because all too often I miss them.  Don’t we all?

I believe love is the only thing big enough to make a difference. 

I still feel wobbly, scared and numb almost twenty-four hours later.

And I am left with more questions than answers .

But mostly, I am sad –sad for my kids, sad for our community and sad for these lost souls who live in a fatalistic land of hopelessness. 

How are you coping with all the violence?

Gangsta Christmas

Every morning I wake up to another sappy Christmas commercial that emotionally hijacks me and leaves me all weepy in my honey nut Cheerios. For example: the Hallmark tear-jerker that keeps replaying of the lonely soldier in Afghanistan opening up a Charlie Brown book with his little boy’s voice warbling out the Christmas story –sob, sniffle, sniffle, sob.

Enough is enough!  Instead of another blog post on the most amazing Christmas gift I’ve received, or even the most meaningful, how about a tribute to the worst Christmas Day ever?  Yessss…I knew you were in for it.

On a dismal and dreary Christmas morning about ten years ago (a rarity in sun drenched So Cal) my family and I loaded up all the gifts, pies and babies (Kyle was 4, Faith was 1) into our Expedition and with my father and step-mom closely following in the car behind us, we caravanned to the kids’ grandparents (on their dad’s side) in a nearby beach community.

On the way over we sang snowman songs and goofed around.  The roads were quiet and eerily still and we made quick time on the freeway, exited onto a road in a rather bad neighborhood (but one we drive through all the time) and continued on our way. 

All of a sudden, a car coming in the opposite direction u-turned directly in front us and screeched to a halt within inches of our stunned faces.  The kid’s daddy (Brent) threw on the brakes and my father (Papa Ken) stopped quickly behind us almost hitting us.  I looked up and saw a black Escalade hot on the heels of the junky car that had just blocked our path.

The door of the junky car flew open and a man tumbled out with a look of sheer terror on his face, never taking his eyes off the Escalade.  He darted right then jerked to the left as if he was carrying a football into the end zone then dashed across the street directly in the path of our car.  Within a nanosecond, one of the heavily tinted windows of the Escalade lowered and a hand appeared with a large ominous gun tracking the fleeing man.  The man raced across the front of our car and the gun followed his every move.

I screamed “move, move, move!” like a commando from Rambo.   Brent looked at me in confusion because he didn’t see the gun at first, then realized what was happening and quickly moved into action.

I whipped around and motioned for the kids to get down (difficult when babies are in car seats) and hollered at Brent to back the car up and get us out of there pronto.  Brent threw the car in reverse like one of the Duke’s of Hazard boys and maneuvered around Papa Ken’s car motioning like crazy for him to back up. 

The man kept running and a single shot fired off from the gun but missed him –and even more thankfully –us.  The black Escalade roared to life and took off after the man down the side street.  The junky car sat in the middle of the street abandoned, with the door wide open and blocking traffic.

Brent pulled over and we quickly called the police and choked out the incident in bursts of adrenaline.  The police asked us to come in and give them a report. 

Everyone decided it would be best to drop off the hysterical wife (namely –me) at Brent’s parent’s home with the kids and then go back to meet the cops.

I sat at the house in a trance of tremors and tears while my in-laws tried to console me but I was shaken to the core with this near brush of violence.  The last thing I expected on a merry Christmas Day was a drive-by shooting initiated by gangster thugs. 

Who shoots people on Christmas Day anyway?  And what the heck did the guy do to deserve to be hunted down like an animal?

All these thoughts swirled through my brain and then finally peace washed over me like a gentle wave.  And I knew that even in the midst of this terrible awful, I would appreciate this Christmas day like never before.  I held my babies tighter, breathed in their sweet sugary cookie smell, and enjoyed my family with an unfamiliar intensity.

I discovered on that eventful day that sometimes the best Christmas gifts are wrapped in the worst possible circumstances. 

Appreciation rarely reveals itself in the obvious; it’s subtle and generally involves suffering and trial.  And just like the soldier sitting all alone in a tent in the Middle East yearning for his family, I understood all that I had to lose in a split second.

So if your Christmas stinks this year –let it be a reminder of better times, both in the past and yet to come (Lord willing).  And relish the gift of appreciation, unconventionally wrapped, often missed but when found –deeply treasured.

(I know, I know…Halmark wants me to write for them)

What do you appreciate this Christmas?  What do you long for? Do you have a worst Christmas tale?

 

 

 

 

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