Not Knowing What Else to Do, by Paula Rose Michelson

Life and what we make it, is influenced by what we aspire to become, or the situations we find ourselves in. Although many might think they had all the options in the world to chose from, as we become immersed in the reality of one choice, others seem to pale by comparison. For some, doing what must be done becomes their life’s work, others chose themselves. Either way, whatever one chooses defines and can sometimes trap them into a life they would have never chosen if they knew what would happen next.

The Text

                Whether it was the responsibility of their mission’s success or Madre Vida’s words that caused Naomi to have a sleepless night, she was not sure. All she knew was when bird song roused her, she stayed in bed, lulled to sleep by the chirping she loved so much. It seemed that only a few moments had passed when she heard someone. It must be Maria, she thought. She glanced out her French doors, and noticed it was still early morning twilight. Perhaps I had a bad dream. She listened intently and heard the sound of distraught wailing. Aware that something was terribly wrong, she jumped out of bed, opened her door, heard the sound of fervent praying, and looked toward Madre Vida’s suite. Maria stood in a pool of light at its entrance.
                Naomi raced down the hall, thought of her adoptive madre’s words to her, and silently prayed, Madre Vida, please do not be— Before she completed her prayer, she remembered herself screaming, “Abuela Sosa, please do not be dead!” She forced her mind back to the present and shuddered. No! she told herself, I cannot let someone I love die again! When she reached Maria, the young woman was wailing as tears streamed down her face. Madre Vida is already dead, Naomi thought. She reached out to Maria. The young woman turned toward her but did not seem to recognize her. Not knowing what else to do, and not able to look inside the suite, Naomi pulled her close. Maria sobbed. “Tía always liked to wrap her neck with as many scarves as possible. She told me it kept the chill from her old bones.” She pointed to the bedpost. “But look what has happened.”
                Naomi forced herself to look into Madre Vida’s room and gasped. Vida’s face was ashen gray and looked more like a death mask than the caring woman Naomi knew her to be. Steeling her resolve, Naomi scanned the ornately carved bedpost and saw where Vida had gotten her scarves caught. “She is dead,” she said gagging on the words as she spoke them. She strangled to death, Naomi silently admitted as tears welled up. Aware that Madre Vida would frown on such behavior, she dashed them away as she told herself, There is much to do before you can grieve.
                She turned toward Maria, steeled her heart for the task ahead, and demanded, “Why are you here this early?”
                Maria gulped back a sob. “It was our secret. Tía did not want me to tell you. She feared you would get up every night to tend her.”
                “Maria, tell me what you are talking about!”
                “She was … I mean … always got cold … at this hour. She wanted a hot water bottle … for her feet. She said it helped to warm her old—”
                “We need to call the doctor! He must come and tend her!”
                “But … she … is dead,” Maria sobbed hysterically.
                “I need to call the doctor now! I do not want her to be attended by strangers.” Naomi took two steps and turned back. Maria stood riveted at the threshold of the suite and continued to look at Madre Vida’s corpse. Her sobs echoed throughout the house.
                “Come with me.” Naomi took her to the kitchen and brewed some chamomile tea. “Drink this. Calm down and tell me why you were in Tía’s room at this hour.”
                “But I already told you,” the young woman wailed as she sniffled and wiped away her tears.
                Blinking back her own, Naomi forced herself to calm down. “I had trouble hearing what you said … tell me again.”
                “Oh, forgive me.” Maria glanced at Naomi for support. Naomi nodded, so Maria continued, “Tía always had me come in at this hour. She said her feet were cold, so I brought her a hot water bottle because she told me she could not sleep when her feet became chilled. It was a little secret between us. She didn’t want you to know. She feared you wouldn’t leave her to do, as she put it, the things of first importance. This time, however, she was as you yourself saw her. I believe she is with the angels now.”
                “Sí … she is gone from us.” Feeling removed, yet overwrought by the situation, Naomi stood and walked to the office. She dialed Dr. Apayo’s number. When he answered she said, “Madre Vida is gone from us … please come.” She returned to the kitchen. Maria was crying while she rung her hands in despair. Not knowing what else to do, Naomi’s training took over and she focused on the young woman’s needs.

Reflective Questions

Other’s needs keep Naomi in the casa in El Barrio. What keeps you where you are?

A pledge becomes Naomi’s life. What pledges have you made?

Helping others causes Naomi to keep her secrets hidden. What are you hiding and why?

1 Corinthians 13: 12, For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known

Until we meet again may you experience Messiahs blessings.

Becoming a Blessing, by Paula Rose Michelson

As often happens, we intend to become one type of person, but because of circumstance become another. This has been Naomi’s journey, mine, and maybe yours as well. I say that about us because although we might make plans, life and the needs of others may cause us to feel or force us to make other life choices. Having spoken with many women over the years that gave up their dream, I can attest to the fact that though the end result might look different than the one you intended, whether you are other or self-centered, you will probably remain so unless you learn to evaluate everything through a different lens. In Naomi’s story we see that the girl, who left hearth and home to help her family, has now been appointed to help everyone. One wonders: Can she do this while hiding who she is? Can she reconcile herself to the situation she is in and find joy in doing for others while she continues to deny herself? You might ask yourself these questions as you read today’s blog. God Bless!

The Text

                Naomi was finally able to leave the confines of the casa. Though she rushed from citizenship classes to the market, visited Victor at immigration, and allowed some married niñas to take her shopping for a wardrobe befitting her new station, she savored her freedom. Yet as busy as her days were, the time she valued most was her daily meeting with Madre Vida. There was much for her to learn, and her American madre knew what and how to teach her. Every night she and her mentor would have their meeting in the old woman’s room while they ate their dinner together. Sometimes she was with her for hours. At other times the old woman’s fragile health caused them to end their sessions as soon as dinner was over. The time they spent together had a single focus, to prepare the young woman for the world outside and the work she would carry on. Though Naomi was grateful to be able to study to become a citizen, she knew that what Madre Vida taught her would allow her to fulfill her obligation. Although she wanted to understand all she was told, it never failed that just as she began to grasp what the old woman was saying, Madre Vida would wave her away. “That is enough for tonight. You think about what I have taught and tomorrow you can tell me how you applied the lesson.”
                “Are you never pleased with me, Madre Vida?”
                “My child, I know the doctor told you everything about my condition so you know this will most likely be my last spring.” The old woman wheezed. “I must do everything I can to prepare you.” Naomi gasped. Madre Vida turned, locked eyes with her, and willed her protégé to act, as she must. “When I was given charge of Tía Esperanza’s affairs, little notice was taken of me. I was able to learn as I went through the tasks of each day. But did you not notice the cunning looks that crossed the faces
of our good padre and Mr. Martinez when they learned that you were to become my own daughter? Surely, you could not judge, as I did, that you may be in danger from the men I hoped would assist you. Learn what I teach you so that you and our work will flourish. And you, in due time, will find another to take your place. Remember, do not put your trust in men, but trust in God alone.”
                Naomi nodded, aware that she had noticed these things. However, these concerns paled when she thought of Madre Vida’s life ending. Do something to help Madre Vida, she scolded herself. As she did, she knew there was nothing to do except keep faith with the pledge she had made so she
forced a smile. “Do not worry, Madre Vida, I will do as you have taught me.” Before she finished speaking the words, she remembered herself as an adolescent telling her mamá in Spain the same thing. In the next heartbeat, she thought about the night she fled rather than deal with that life. After all these years, Naomi’s feelings of shame drew her back to Spain as nothing else had. Then just as quickly, her mind brought her back to the present.
                Madre Vida watched the telling play of emotions cross her daughter’s face. “I see that you understand. Let us use our time to prepare you and give you what is necessary for success. In success, there is much pleasure, especially when it means the lives of the little niñas are changed. People you have never met will have better lives because you helped these girls stay here. Is that not something to strive toward?”
                Eyes alight with unshed tears, Naomi nodded and said, “Yes.” As she did, she found herself rejoicing, Me, the girl who was a curse, now a blessing. What magic is this?
                “I see that you understand.” Madre Vida glanced at her bedside clock. Aware that this was her benefactors signal for her to say good night, Naomi stood, kissed the old woman on the forehead, and left the room.
                What would it feel like to be a blessing? Naomi wondered while she walked through the  house. Would it be evident to everyone? Or would it be like the last time mi mamá was with child? Oh, do not draw attention to yourself. If you do, others will discover you are a liar and a thief, she told herself, for though she had agreed to become all her American madre was teaching her to be, she still feared exposure.

Author’s Comment

It seems that no matter what Naomi chooses, she, like us, finds herself at the crossroad of life. Fear lurks on one side, and she might choose to live in fear because she has been schooled in that reality. Each of us deal with choices sometimes daily, or weekly, or yearly. The sum total of our choices colors our world, affects our state of mind, and defines us.

Breaking free of the tyranny of choice or the consequences there of have caused children to disown their parents, adults to move so they can reinvent themselves, and (I believe)  made some therapist wealthy.

When everything is rearranged to our liking, underneath it all, we are still as we started out. For the human condition draws us back to the familiar. Therefore, all I can suggest, the only change agent that I know works, is putting our trust in God, so I end with the three Scriptures below and pray that as you read them they will speak to your need and bestow upon you Messiah’s Shalom, the peace that transcends all understanding.

Isaiah 41:10 So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Isaiah 41:13 For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.

Isaiah 43:1 But now, this is what the LORD says— he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.

How will I do this? by Paula Rose Michelson

I believe that each of us has had experiences where we had to overcome insurmountable odds to achieve a goal we had not set for ourselves. Solving problems and overcoming obstacles is part of the human condition. In retrospect many have admitted that though the challenge was one they would not chose they learned a great deal about themselves as they dealt with the situation.

As you read the text ask yourself:

What would I do?

Why would I do it?

What would I do next?

The Text

                “Sí, sí … yes, but how will I do all this?”
                “We will call for assistance from my friend Myra. She will send a girl to you who you will train to take care of me. There is too much for you to do all by yourself. At night, you can take care of me. During the day you will serve me best outside the casa by taking caring of what is ours.” Naomi’s eyes widened as Madre Vida spoke about her new responsibilities. With each utterance, she became more overwhelmed. Her fear was evident to the old woman, who pointed an arthritic finger at her and insisted, “You can do this! I have chosen you because I know you will succeed! Do you believe me?”
                Naomi nodded, surprised that she truly did believe the old woman.
                “Yes, Madre Vida, I do.”
                “That is good.” She pulled the edge of her sheet over the blanket so the soft fabric was against her tender skin. “I am hungry and thirsty. Please bring me something to eat before I fall asleep again.”
                Naomi ran to the kitchen, put together a simple meal, and it brought to her. She set the tray on her bed and turned to leave. “But, child, where is your meal?” Dashing to the kitchen, Naomi fixed another tray as she pondered the strange turn of events.
                When she entered the suite, the old woman smiled. “I am glad you have chosen to stay.” So much freedom … so much responsibility, Naomi thought. How can I handle everything and discover who I am? The old woman looked up from her cold beet soup, sweetened with a slight zing from mild chilies, and studied her daughter’s face. “What is troubling you, Naomi?”
                “Forgive me, but I am concerned. I do not know how to do any of the things you want me to do.”
                The old woman chuckled. “You will learn.” She mopped up her bowl with some bread and added, “Just as I did.”
                “Just as you did?”
                “Yes, exactly as I did.” Madre Vida shared how her own adopted madre, Esperanza, had taught her the very things she would teach Naomi. When Naomi realized that Vida had felt as ill prepared as she felt now and made it through, she relaxed. “Listen, why do you think I never brought another niña here after you? Why do you think it was only the two of us? I know you were aware, since some of my grown niñas stopped by to visit, that many girls were here before but none since you came. Even in town, they would ask about you, but I kept you sheltered with me always. Never did I farm you out. Did you never wonder why? Did it never seem odd to you that I never treated you as I treated them?”
                “Well … yes, I did wonder about that. But I have always been treated differently no matter where I went, so it did not seem so unusual.”
                “Then you know that you are one who was set apart. I do not know why, but my good fortune is that I found you and was able to get you for myself. I have watched you. I know you. You can do all I ask of you. You will bring blessing upon my name long after I am gone. And the people here will come to know how much you care for them as you do what I tell you to do. Now I am tired. You must let me rest.”
                Pondering this strange turn of events, Naomi took Madre Vida’s tray from her feeble hands. The old woman smiled up at her. “I was one such as you. Tía Esperanza gave me this work in trust. I learned to do it and you will as well. Now leave me, for I must sleep.”

                Naomi walked into the kitchen, set their trays on the counter, and hurried to Madre Vida’s office. She entered, looked around, and realized it was now hers, as was the success for the work Vida trusted her to continue. She walked to the massive oak desk and sat down in the chair the old woman had sat in a few days before. Knowing her madre as she knew herself, Naomi reasoned that the top drawer held information she needed. She opened it and took the items out one at a time. There were timecards for the employees at the market, files for expenses and vendors, and legal agreements for those who rented space there. She found a file titled Immigration, opened it, and saw the papers Mr. Martinez had drawn up for Madre Vida. She set them aside. Under those, she found a file with her name on it.
                She took it to the kitchen and brewed a cup of tea. As the sun began to set, she flipped on the outside lights, stepped onto the patio, lit the torches, sat down, and opened the file. When she scanned its contents, she saw a diagram that would lead her to a book, which Madre Vida mentioned as important. She hurried to the office and found a unique book bound in red where the diagram showed it would be. Eager to look through the file, she returned to the patio, sat down, and placed the book on the table, intending to look at it later.
                When she flipped the page and read, “Detener … stop. Go no further until you read The Book of the Tías,” whatever illusion of independence she had vanished almost as fast as it had come. She picked up the book and leafed through its pages. “It seems I received my freedom so I could do what these women require of me,” she mumbled. Yet as she read, she found the entries fascinating. Esperanza, who had begun the work, wrote the first entries. Those that followed were from Madre Vida. As Naomi read her adoptive madre’s entries, she saw the date when Vida first mentioned that Naomi would be her successor and realized that it had been written it shortly after she arrived at the casa. Madre Vida’s last entry to her was a paraphrasing of the last words Esperanza had written to Vida, the girl who would continue her work. Aware that they applied to her as well, Naomi spoke them aloud. “Be fearless. Those who have come here need your assistance.” Though she spoke the words firmly, she was not firm in her resolve and stayed up all night trying to figure out how she could realize her plans and continue the work she had benefited from.
                As the shops prepared to open for business, Naomi yawned, and stretched in an effort to clear her mind. She could not stop herself from thinking, My letter seems different, as if Madre Vida chose me not because I was convenient but because of some inner quality she knew I possessed. She hinted at this when she wrote, I searched for you until I found you. I sheltered you and kept you safe. You have received more than anyone else has. I expect you to do what those who are behind you ask you to do and what those who are coming need you to do. I have equipped you to do all I have given you to do.
               Moved by the letter, which had been written years before she heard the words spoken by the woman herself, Naomi wondered, What did she see in me all those years ago—a frightened, scrawny, wide-eyed girl with nothing to offer? What made her choose me? She assumed she would never know. Yet she held The Book of the Tías in her hand, bowed her head, and accepted the commission. Her fate sealed, she admitted, I will never find you, mi tío, because I will never look for you. My heart is committed to meeting the needs of those, like me, who face deportation. She knew that the letter she had tucked into her skirt pocket so long ago would go unanswered. Here is a mission God equipped me for. I will not walk away from it … not for mi tío, not even for my family!
                Her future sealed, Naomi remembered fleeing Spain because she had feared others would discover her to be a Jew in a country that allowed only one faith, that of the Catholic Church. She remembered Madre Vida hiding her in the casa and feeling safe. As she thought about her journey, her old worries found voice, and though she would never tell a soul, she remembered that the last name she had given to Mr. Sosa, Victor at immigration, and the one Madre Vida had given the attorney which would appear on her adoption papers was not hers. Aware that she must return to immigration bearing that false name, she found herself more fearful of deportation than before. Realizing there was no one she could take her troubles to, she got on her knees and prayed, “Oh, God, help me to help others as my tía helped me. Allow me to know you and guide me always in the way I should go.” She felt a heavy weight lift from her. Infused with the joy, which comes when one casts their burdens upon God, she felt the strain she had been living under vanish. By agreeing to take the role of Tía and praying to God for his wisdom, I have again become as I was before the ruinous poison of the Jewish curse caused me to flee seeking a safe haven, she thought. If only—the memory of her childhood wish, quiet for all these years, stirred, if only it had happened sooner! At that moment, she felt as if she could again hear herself, as a child, praying to God. She had wanted others to think of her as a true daughter of Spain rather than a Jew. She had asked God for that blessing. However, her request had gone unanswered, and the children had continued to call her names, chasing her home as they yelled at her that she had killed their Christ.
                Naomi cried out, “Oh God of my fathers, God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob, help me do as I am asked! Keep me safely hidden in you and I will serve you all the days of my life.” She sobbed, aware that by accepting the role of Tía, she had become visible and all the terrible things that happened to her before could happen again. For one such as she, who had mastered the art of being invisible, putting herself in a situation where many would scrutinize her was unsettling. Yet she was committed to assist those fleeing situations too painful to describe.
                Emboldened by a renewed faith in the Lord and her position in the community, she asked, “What can they do to me now? As Tía’s chosen one, I have wealth and a good reputation with Madre Vida. No one would dare question me about my ability or my heritage. They will know Madre Vida choose and trained me and that will be enough for them.” She realized the protection wealth would afford her and smiled as she stood, blew out the candles, and went to bed.

Until we meet again, may you be emboldened to move from what is to what is yet to be.

Visit to buy Casa de Naomi: The House of Blessing Book 1 and pre-purchase a prerelease copy of book two