20.0 Angel Corps, the Big Apple, Study Exams & Work

by Elizabeth Stephens

Angel Corps, the Big Apple, Study Exams and Work

Since becoming a devout Buddhist I had been very busy working at the phone company, doing activities, having fun and trying to enjoy life to the fullest. I participated in as many activities as I could.

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My time at General Telephone was filled with many experiences which would fill a book as well. I worked in customer service and being close to UCLA was often involved in serving students or in some cases investigation.

 

The Buddhist organization put on shows as public relations and I participated as much as possible. When I could, I would volunteer at the art warehouse to paint sets and help with costumes until all hours of the night.

In this first picture my little group was leaving for a big Buddhist convention in New York on July 4, 1976, the two hundredth anniversary of our country’s founding.

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The next picture is when I was in charge of a care group called Angel Corps.

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I also participated in the study academy and even got papered.

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In Japan………..

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I started to enjoy myself and live a full life. I had parties at my house often. Here is a gathering of my district.

 

These were memories and experiences that I will never forget. Though I was so idealistic the interaction was like a large family. You had aunts and uncles and all kinds of cousins and you got to do all kinds of activities with them.

Here Jayne Murad, a very close friend and I were performing at a gathering. I had a favorite trumpet player, Triny Lopez and the Tijuana Brass that I followed and I started to take trumpet lessons. I found a teacher named Paul Salvo. My practice book was written by his father, Victor Salvo, so he was very good and by the way, at the time of writing this he is involved as a studio musician, playing for film such as, Star Trek and Mission Impossible 3 to name a few, AND he still gives lessons too so he is very, very good.

 

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(Today as I just found out Jayne passed away I am very sad. I tried to reconnect with her and did track her down and talked to her mother that was a high leader in the organization  and I did write Jayne a letter but never heard back from her.)

21.0 Do You Have My Copy of Human Revolution Still?

Meeting James

by Elizabeth Stephens

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James in 1969.

In 1977, a young man named James Stephens came into view. James was born in beautiful downtown Burbank. He and his younger brother were raised mostly in Montana. In 1967, his family moved back to southern California when he was a junior in high school.

His father ran a Mobil Service Station on the corner of Westwood and Santa Monica Boulevard, the corner I used to exit from the bus when returning from University High. While our times did coincide on that corner, no we never met.

James' Father's Mobil Station at the corner of Westwood and Santa Monica where I got off the bus. (This is a newer photo of course).

James’ Father’s Mobil Station at the corner of Westwood and Santa Monica where I got off the bus. (This is a newer photo of course).

His father, Carlton was from Texas and his mother, Alice was from Toluca Lake, California. One summer day when Carlton was nineteen, he and a friend hopped a train to earn their fortune in California. He ended up joining the army and  after the war swept Alice off her feet.

I found it interesting that James’ parents and my parents were married within 15 days of each other. James’ parents married in Las Vegas at the Hitching Post on 7.31.49 and my parents in Israel on 8.15.49.

In 1969, James had gone away to the University of Montana, but was homesick and returned to Los Angeles and started school at California State University at Northridge. One day in May, when he was 19 he came home to find that his mother and brother had left without a word, abruptly ending a 20 year marriage. This sent Carlton into despair and James as a responsible elder son was burdened with the new responsibility for the stability of himself and his father. The next few years were very rocky and difficult. James had thrown himself into his Buddhist practice and had become a chapter youth division leader while working part time and attending college.

He and another friend Scott Ferguson had started a literary group and were working their way through Dostevsky, Hemingway, London, Bronte and other classics when he decided he wanted to start another group with Bruce which would read through the works of Daisaku Ikeda, the President of Soka Gakkai International, the Buddhist sect we belonged to.  Only one problem, he didn’t have the first couple of volumes of Ikeda’s life story, The Human Revolution.  He was what I would call faithy and very involved in the movement.

It all started at a New Years Eve party. One of my members was speaking with James and she had promised him a book. As it happened my member had some other problems and could not let go of the promise she had made of the loaning of this book. To sooth her, I said I would take care of it. So I ended up loaning the book to James and thought nothing much of the exchange. However, I am detail oriented and after several months I wanted my book back. James said he would bring it to the next headquarters’  meeting, but I was not there and when I saw him the next time, he did not have it. This back and forth transaction went on for quite sometime. Occasionally, we would talk on the phone, and once we had an enjoyable two hour conversation. I invited him to our district’s picnic, but later he said he felt pressured. I was not into any pressure I was just being friendly. Evidently, he was interested in one of my members, but was busy starting his own landscape business with his Dad.

Finally, one night he called and said he would stop by after a meeting and drop off the book. I said great. Darlene, one of my members and I had just gone to a furniture store and brought back a new leather couch. I had meetings at my apartment, wherever I lived and was always having people coming and going. James was late and Darlene had to leave. When James finally stopped by, he politely  stood in the doorway and handed me the book. I knew he had to drive to the San Fernando Valley, so I was hospitable and asked him if he would like a cup of coffee before he drove over the hill back to the Valley about 45 minutes away.  He teetered on a decision but said yes and came in.

Well, we ended up talking throughout the night and found we had much in common.  We’d both been Buddhist senior leaders in the youth division for a number of years and were experiencing some freedom during what had become known as Phase II. For years, the youth division was militantly spreading Buddhism fighting for Kosenrufu (world peace through the propagation of Buddhism) and members of the Young Men’s Division and Young Woman’s Division while often sizing one another up while passing each other at Koteketai (young women’s fife and drum corps) and Brass Band (young men’s band group) practices, kept their distance according to an unwritten code. Many young men and women now had time to think about having a life besides the Gakkai. That night James and I broached the subject of marriage and it seemed like the door opened quite naturally for our relationship.

We started seeing one another more frequently and when he’d drive over the hill after seeing me in Santa Monica, would sweetly call me to let me know he arrived home safely. One night, after he arrived home, he called me and the phone kept ringing and ringing. He was so worried that windy night, that maybe the gas had gone out on my pilot and that I was being asphyxiated. So he drove all the way back and knocked on my door until I got up and answered it. He was so worried. I didn’t even think to tell him that I am a very sound sleeper, to which he can attest to this day. He’s just the opposite.

It didn’t take us long to realize that we wanted to get married and both decided to make a commitment of chanting a million daimoku (the chant) to make sure this union would be lasting. Probably in other religions it would be the equivalent to taking a very long journey together. Next we would live together and work out all the details. How excited we both were. It was like having a new family, a mate, I was in shock. All that was left to do was to get guidance. All the members would have to talk to their leaders every so often to stay in touch. However both of our leaders told us not to move in together. What was so odd was we would find out later this was a double standard. They were all living with others, but we couldn’t? We did what was recommended and planned to set the highest standard and wait to move in with one another. We actually would go into meetings holding hands and that was not done either, there were a lot of secrets going on. Everyone would cover up their affection, but we would have it out in the open.

One night he was going to come over after one of our chapter leaders came over to talk to me about my future plans. James was waiting until they left and had taken a short walk.  As he was walking down the street in his sandals, he stepped on a nail which penetrated his heal. He pulled it out and walked over to the local emergency room and called me after he got a tetanus shot. Afterwards,  I met him in the emergency room and helped him back to my apartment. Strangely, that night he proposed to me. When he got down on his knee and asked me to marry him, I told him no. He was surprised and said, “You’ve got to be kidding.”  I smiled and said, “Yes, of course!” Then we set a date. It was very difficult to do hours and hours of chanting, but we had a goal and we were going for the gold, the completion. I was able to go to Japan for the third time with a friend, Linda.

In 1977, Linda, a Buddhist friend and I went to Japan. There we met other members at the temple.

It was a chance to visit the temple once more and get a confirmation of my decision to marry. I wrote a postcard to my mother’s sister, Sharon telling her that I might have found ‘the one.’

I will translate. “7.18.77

Hi Aunt Sharon,

Guess what, it’s raining here on the 21st floor of this hotel. It’s a terrific place if you’ve got money. A steak is $20.00, orange juice is a dollar. We’re going to be train hopping today we’re going to Mt. Fiji tomorrow and home in 2 weeks. I think I’m home sick. After I come back I want you to meet someone, his name is Jim Stephens and I think he’s the one. Anyway got 2 go, Love, Liz”File1333

 

After returning home to Santa Monica, I was on a fast track getting everything arranged as I did not have anyone to rely upon, but myself and the members in my chapter. Linda decided to throw me a wedding shower which was so very sweet of her as my good friend. We still keep in touch even after all these years. Here’s a few photos of the wedding shower.

22.0 The Wicked Stepmother’s Last Bite

 By Elizabeth Stephens

“Give Your Children to the Buddha” 

James wanted to meet my family. I tried to explain he did not understand who they were and what he was getting himself into. I had always kept up on the family’s whereabouts and always had their phone number. From time to time over the years I would even call but Selma would always answer and I would hang up. James thought no one could act that badly. Nevertheless, one night, James picked up the phone and dialed the number. Selma answered and James asked to speak to David.  I was amazed that David came to the phone. David would have customers calling for construction jobs so Selma probably thought this was work related. For several minutes I listened to the conversation. It was the normal introduction of the caller stating who he was and his business. James told David he was going to marry his daughter and they were invited to the wedding. David was shocked and stunned. James suggested we all meet at a restaurant in Beverly Hills.

Apparently Selma had gotten wind of the conversation and either got on an extension or started yelling. She was so mad her face must have turned red. As soon as she could she ended the conversation and the proposed meeting never took place. A letter was sent that stated to give your children to the Buddha. That was meant to be a curse, but that was what we were planning to do anyway. For a long time I did not know what happened to that letter, I thought James’ dad threw it away as he said it had bad vibrations. However I did find it years later and here it is:

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Although I told James they wouldn’t show, we did make the effort to meet them at a restaurant on Wilshire, but they never showed. We received the letter a couple of days later. While Selma no longer had control over my life, she hadn’t lost her way with words! Later, I found out that David had no hand in writing the letter. Selma had been up to her old tricks. She reminded me on the back of the envelope: “Don’t call again.”

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James wasn’t the least bit phased. We loved one another and the wedding plans continued to unfold without missing a beat.

23.0 Are you kidding? Tracey Shiffman designed your wedding invitation?

The Invitation

Our wedding invitation was designed and created by one of James’  friends. A few years back, he was showing someone our wedding album and the invitation and he casually asked who designed it.

James replied, ” Tracey Shiffman.”

His friend, who was in the design business responded, “Are you kidding? The Tracey Shiffman? Do you know how famous she is?”

I had no clue, since we’d lost track of her, but have since discovered that she is now a well-known graphic artist and Professor at Art Center College of Design. It came out so well. I recall going down to A & M Records in Hollywood where she was working at the time to look at the design with James. It definitely was not a typical design, but neither were our lives. It matched perfectly.

24.0 A Perfect Day for Our Buddhist Wedding

by Elizabeth Stephens

February 18, 1978  A Perfect Day for Our Buddhist Wedding

It had rained a great deal that whole week and yet as Saturday morning dawned there was not a cloud in the sky and the air was crystal clear. It was a beautiful, clear, amazing day. I got up early to do some errands and had my hair done up in curls. Are all brides beautiful? Later three of my friends and members came to pick me up and we drove out to the temple. It was in Cucamonga before it was Rancho Cucamonga. There was a steel factory and not much else. We would know we were getting close to our destination when we passed the Ontario Motor Speedway. The speedway is no more now turned into a super mall and when the put Rancho in front of Cucamonga, much of the landscape turned into million dollar houses.

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When I arrived at Myohoji Temple around 12 pm, the place was deserted. I proceeded to get ready and then I wondered if anyone would really show up. This was a hold back to Selma, and my low self esteem. Fortunately, I later found out that James was running a few minutes late since he and his Best Man Bruce Barnes had forgotten the rings!  (The days before cell phones).

{The bride, me}

Carol and Andrea came in to help.

And one of my leaders, Suzanne.

 

The wedding was at 1pm. My sister arrived with a new hairdo, the frizzy style and I thought to myself, it must be very windy out there? My leader, Suzan came to visit and I knew people were starting to come in. Finally it was time and the music played. More and more members, old friends from General Telephone, and relatives continued to arrive. It was a full house to my surprise.

Bruce Barnes was James’ District Chief  and his best man seen here walking the isle with my sister, Adrian, the maid of honor. Hi to John and Jason. Scott, Russ and Jerry.James’ Woman’s Chapter leader Cheryl Bell,  Maryann and Ray, there is Bethany. Tom and Geraldine in the back. Many friends…..Nagila and Lauri….Jane and Ed. Ira and Bob and John. Mary and her husband are now Christians. Mary and I were in the same district in the beginning.There is Ford and Chuck in the back and one of my best friends, Linda.

 

Ahh, then comes the happy Buddhist couple. When I walked out the sanctuary was filled with people~ standing room only. In the Buddhist tradition you are married already when you have walked down the isle.

We then chanted through the sutra or the Buddhist prayers led by the Priest Reverend Sakata.

 

The Tea Ceremony.

We had decided that we would like to celebrate the traditional Japanese tea ceremony as part of our wedding vows, with one minor substitution that one uses sake, not tea. Traditionally,  the tea is poured three times for each person and that person take three sips before returning it to the tea master, or in our case mistress, one of my friends from Japan. She is a master of the art and did an impeccable job. Very relaxing.

 

The rings.

Don shares a few words, followed by Rick.

Out through the glass doors there was the sun shining and the green grass and the tremendous blue sky. Everyone should be married on such a day as this. I hardly remember chanting and doing the prayers, then the priest spoke about the woman being the pillars and the man being the roof. The priest performed the rites and then there was the kiss.Then the ceremony was over.

 

“Let me now introduce to you, Mr. and Mrs. James Stephens.

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25.0 Flowers from Heaven

by Elizabeth Stephens

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One of James’ members had to be at class in the morning and could not make it to the temple on time. However he flew over in a plane, dropped a bouquet of flowers and took a picture of the temple. (Today this site looks very different as it is filled with million dollar homes.)

After the ceremony, we met many of our fellow members, friends and relatives as they prepared to leave.

Then Jean our photographer took us away into the Japanese garden to take a few candid photos. All of a sudden a group of the guys were running toward us. What was happening?They took James away and through him in the air about 9 times a Japanese wedding custom.

The Family. Alice, James’ mother with little Eddie and his mother, Kim.

Standing on the other said of me was Adrian, James’ dad in back of me, Jerry, married to one of Sharon’s daughter, Rebecca (in the red dress), Ruth and Sharon, my mother’s sister.

My members, Kimiko, Chieko, Darlene, Gale, Cindy, Katie and Sherrie. There were a lot of   fellow members present that we had practiced Buddhism with for years and although we’ve lost contact with many, I still dearly love them even to this day. Each face carries a name and a story. There was also a contingent from my work, the phone company and our relatives.It all seemed like a blur of people and flashes of pictures.

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I was having a great time, and then it was off to the reception. We had rented a hall in Pacific Palisades. Everyone now drove from Riverside to the Ocean, again what a great day for a drive. Another of James’ members, Jeff drove us in his cool car.

26.0 Hawaiian Leis, the Hustle, and Wedding Cake in Pacific Palisades

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by Elizabeth Stephens

The wedding party arrived in Pacific Palisades at the reception hall which our friends had decorated beautifully. Unbeknownst to me, James had plumeria and carnation leis flown in from Hawaii which filled the room with wonderful tropical aroma. Here’s a photo of Danny one of James’ members who is now the main leader in the organization. The other couple is Eddy and Lee who I worked with at the phone company. Lee was like an adopted mother who taught me many valuable lessons.

I was in such a daze as it all unfolded, but a happy one at that. Friends, photos, food, champagne and music.

This was a special cake. Originally it was for a wedding and a graduation. The bride and groom were on the top and the graduating figures were on the bridges, but we put flowers on the bridges to the other cakes. There was a chocolate fountain at the bottom.

Our wedding cake. Chocolate fountain on the bottom, carrot cake on top, chocolate cake and white cake as well.

Our wedding cake. Chocolate fountain on the bottom, carrot cake on top, chocolate cake and white cake as well.

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Friends and family enjoying one another’s company, food, and dance. We had a blast.

The Cutting of the Wedding Cake

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The Toast

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James had these lei’s sent over from Hawaii for the family.

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Our friends toasting us.

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The Wedding Dance

We had fallen in love to Strauss’ Blue Danube Waltz which we wanted to play at our wedding, but somehow the record was misplaced, but showed up at the reception. The Hustle though was the real hit. Greg’s band did an amazing job.

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What would 1978 be without the Hustle?

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The hall was decorated beautifully and there was food and drink and dancing. That year there was a dance called the Hustle and it was all fun.

At one point we ran out of drinks and James’ mother’s boyfriend ran out to get more. I thought that was so nice of him.

When it was time to make a graceful exit our friend, Jeff again drove us to the Ambassador Hotel. We paid $150 to rent the suite that the Kennedy’s and other celebrities used when they were in town. James had been there once before when he was in high school and went to see Robert Kennedy. James had left earlier that night and then saw the awful events of Kennedy’s assassination on TV.

These pictures are all that remain of that place as it was recently torn down to make way for a new school, Robert F. Kennedy High School.

It was a separate bungalow with its own pool.   Yes, we did use it even though we were so tired. The next morning we took a cab to Union Station and a train off to San Francisco for our honeymoon.

This was taken in the San Francisco Bay.

I had visited the area before and wanted to stay at a quite hotel I had seen before, but this one had the same name but the wrong place and was awful. We came to this conclusion right up front. The door had multiple locks that had been broken off and replaced. The light bulbs were 25 watts so we could not see anything and the sheets did not look clean at all. Next door were some rowdy guys were having a party. We quickly decided not to stay there and found a different hotel. Our honeymoon consisted of some great times with friends at Ghiradelli Square and sightseeing.

We were so exhausted from all the wedding preparations and excitement and decided to leave early and took a plane back to Santa Monica, to our little apartment in Santa Monica. We did not tell anyone we had come back early, unplugged the phone and enjoyed a few days of needed rest. However, when we first opened the door to the apartment, we could barely get in as there were so many gifts that had been collected from the temple and the reception and delivered in our absence. I was very tired but James the night owl wanted to start opening the presents. I still do not know who gave what as the names and cards got mixed up.

27.0 “Do You Want an Unbloody Lip or a Baby?”

by Elizabeth Stephens

This isn’t exactly an area that I could recall, but James being the journalist that he is, wrote a blow by blow account of the birth of our first child, Eric. Here it is:

Eric’s Birth

November 25, 1980

Liz nudged me, “I’m having contractions.”

“Better time them,” I said, “why don’t you take my watch.”

I went back to sleep in my usual position~ hand on her stomach. Then I had a dream. A voice said, “I’m ready and am coming in now.” I told Liz.

Contractions still five minutes apart.—8:30. I said, “Call Dr. Edwards. Liz tell him your symptoms.”

“Can you be there in 20 minutes?” Dr. Edwards asked.

“Sure.”

It was so unreal. Here we were, a dream, can it be so? Already, as we were expecting December 3 or so. Throwing the La Maz bag together at the last minute… It was a birth passage for us as well.

9:00 a.m. in the labor room, gown and all. Measured 3 cm. dilated. Gave her an enema. Breathing slowly. Real strong contractions. I didn’t know what to think. Is this it? What happened to the water breaking? The 20 minute contractions followed by the 10 minute? None of that. Here we were. Birth, labor. Study between contractions for my final? Didn’t last. Nothing so much as the birth experience.

“Honey the contraction is half over. Breathe, in and out.” I rubbed Liz’s back as Eric evidently was pressing against it. She said,”good enough.” She lapsed into a different world. Sensitive and almost as if in deep meditation and concentration.

Twelve o’clock. Time moves by at its own invisible pace. Some screams from the next labor room. Liz is in total concentration on her own process. I wonder what shall she be going thru shortly. Visualize the birth canal dilating. Breathe deep, exhale. Contraction one-half over. The pain now becomes almost unbearable, Liz struggling to get comfortable. Now she feels pain even between contractions. Earlier the Doctor said the delivery would probably be sometime after six. Liz did not want that. Visualize pain. I told her,  “Remember this is the transition phase the most painful, you’ll want to bail out and get pain medication, just hold out.”

At 1:30 the Doctor had come in and said she was 8cm. What a jump. It could come earlier. Said she could have pain medication. She refused, but would think about it. At 2:30 Liz was about to go through the wall. She looked up noticeably at the clock. Next door we heard a baby cry. One had just been delivered. She painfully looked at me. “Get the nurse!” she commanded in no uncertain terms. The nurse measured her 9 ½ cm. dilated. Just a rim.

This was a hard period, sweating, hot, “don’t push”was the call word. If you push at this time the cervix will swell and you’ll be pushing the baby’s head against the cervix and not helping at all.

Dr. Edwards after delivering the baby next door finally came in. He did an exam and did a manual manipulation of the head which was not properly coming down the birth canal. It was not straight. A few more contractions and you can begin to push, he explained. Pushing time. Real labor, what a relief to be able to push for Liz.

DR Edwards Saint Johns Santa Monica Pediatrician

Dr. David Edwards, St. John’s Hospital Santa Monica.

Now the real work. Dr. Edwards says, “Let’s get three big pushes Elizabeth sweetie. You can do better on the next one. Jim do you want to see the head? There it is.”

Amazing to see the bulge by the cervix and to see how big this area can become. Dr. Edwards continued, “Push, a big cleansing breathe, expel and push. Now push, PUSH! Quick breathe, push. Let’s use that contraction. You don’t want to be here all day. Good push. Now relax.

She was out each time between contractions. I mopped her brow with a rag soaked in ice water. Okay up. I held her arms, the nurse pushed her legs. “Push! Come on Liz. Push!”

The Doctor sat on the sidelines like a player waiting for his turn to come onto the field when it was his turn. Liz was mad at him because he wasn’t doing anything.

I said, “Liz quit biting your lip. It’s bleeding.”

She replied, “What do you want? A unbloody lip or a baby?”

Dr. Edwards came to my defense (whew). “Now come on Elizabeth Sweetheart, let’s have a few more good pushes and we’ll be ready to go into the delivery room.”

Next thing I knew we wheeled next door. I had previously scrubbed down and had changed into surgical cap and gown. Here we were. The final moments.

Strapped in the labor table her legs were covered with light blue paper blankets to keep the uterus area clean. The Doctor was bathing his hands and the tools and uterine area in a special iodine solution. “Let’s get some good pushes here.” They did an episiotomy. Liz’s legs were hurting so they unstrapped them. Not only was Liz pushing, but so was I with all my strength and life force. We were chanting at the head of the table. She was in pain.

“Push and then push.”

“Do you want low lights for the final delivery?” Dr. Edwards asked.

“Yes.”

Out came Eric. “Okay stop pushing.” The sound of water, a bluish baby changing rapidly; so rapidly to a pinker tint.

Dr. Edwards asked, “Do you want to see your son?”

Wow it was like a dream. “My son?” It was so hard to fathom. Even now. Here was Eric. Liz looked in the mirror to see him. He continued for moments to hold him lower than the vaginal opening with the chord pumping blood into his body. The cord then was clamped in two places and cut.

Time of delivery: 4:24 p.m., November 25. The nurse Suzanne then took Eric over to a radiant heater and stuck a tube down his throat to his stomach and pumped out the amniotic fluid from his stomach. That helps the child so when he coughs it up he doesn’t aspirate it back into his lungs.

Second stage post par tum delivery of the placenta. Painful for Liz and to watch. He stuck his hand on her stomach to push it out and finally it came out. This is also a critical stage since you’re bleeding from supplying all that blood to baby for nine months. The nurse then gave Liz, Eric. She couldn’t believe it. Here was our son. Looked at his little hands. She was so full of wonderment in her eyes. (You wouldn’t believe how beet red she was when she pushed. Her eyes were bloodshot for two weeks afterwards and the bruises on her arms proved how hard I helped push along with my sore muscles. “Do you believe it? This is our son. Really!”

“Wow!”

Dr. Edwards then asked “Well, Daddy do you want to give him his first bath?”

“Sure.” Meanwhile, Liz got 25 stitches. Ouch!

The bath water was ready and I held Eric for the first time and submerged his body in water, except for his head. By the way, when Dr. Edwards first held Eric up and he cried, I don’t believe I ever heard a sweeter sound in my life. It wasn’t what you call loud, “he.he whae.” His lungs have improved since let me tell you. Anyway his bath. He looked like a frog with his legs spread out. At first he cried then it was apparent he loved the water as he kicked his legs about in absolute freedom, stretching about. After that Suzanne bundled him up and we were cared for post par tum in the delivery room, vital signs, temp, etc. Liz and I had some tender moments.

Then we were wheeled out to the Recovery room. Meanwhile I walked with the nurse and Eric to the nursery to get Eric weighed and measured.

6 lbs. 9 oz.; 20 inches long, temp normal, heart rate, et.

All I could do was stare in wonder. I left him there. I saw him get his silver nitrate in his eyes to prevent blindness if there is gonorrhea, syphilis in the birth canal; and a vitamin k shot to give him a better chance to have less blood clotting problems. I left him to see Liz. Room 229 in St. John’s Hospital.

As I walked back to the Recovery Room, I ran into Judy Chapman our La Maz teacher. She said, “Really? When? I’m so happy for you. Where’s Liz?”

“In here,” I pointed. Judy congratulated her. Liz cried.

Judy said, “Well Jim you’ll have to come down in cap and gown and tell the La Maz class your first hand experience.” After Liz and I had dinner at 6:30 I just cried I was so happy. Then I went downstairs to the La Maz class and shared my happy experience. That was trip being able to share the reality with all the people we had practiced with. They were also encouraged deeply by the experience.

As I got up to leave someone asked me about the silver chain around my neck tucked into my shirt pocket. I said it was a religious object.

“What religion?”

“Buddhism.”

“What kind?”

“Chanting.”

“That must have really helped you birth.”

“Yes, it did. Thank you.”

I wished everyone luck. I sincerely did. When I got back to the room there was Mom, Pam and Ron. I had been down calling Dad, how they got past me I don’t recall. From then on we had a lot of visitors.

Seeing Ron was a real special experience. Since he missed the wedding I was so happy I could share Eric’s first hours with him. We embraced each other warmly. I felt no reservations, he was very vulnerable. That was beautiful.

Mom was of course thrilled. I saw Barbara and Lois, they saw Eric and Liz too.

I went home. I talked to neighbor’s Pat and Laudington, Jenny, Time and Jana and made several calls.

The next day picked up a bassinet Lois and Yuba loaned us from Burbank office of Arrowhead. Had lunch with Mom, Pam and Ron at Bel Air Sands. By the time I got to the Hospital to see Liz and Eric I was totally out of it. Dad had been by earlier to see Liz and Eric. I went home and retired. Zonked!”

End of Entry.

28.0 The Accident Report Read “Act of God”

James with his fellow  members Russ, Jim, and Bruce in 1976.

James with his fellow members Russ, Jim, and Bruce in 1976.

by Elizabeth Stephens

Jim, one of James’ former District leaders called and asked him to be at a meeting where his presence would act as a show of support. This friend had worked for the Buddhist organization as a paid employee and knew what had transpired behind closed doors. Several youth division leaders walked into the North American Headquarters to confront the leadership. After the morning prayers (chanting) ended, the former employee stood up and started to ask questions about the organization’s finances.

These questions were not received well and several leaders started swearing, others interrupting and saying let him finish, words were exchanged and shouting ensued. The group Jim had led decided they were not getting anywhere and departed without any sense of satisfaction.

A short time later James received a call from the head of the organization department who happened to be one of his friends. He then suggested to James to tell the group to lay low and remain out of sight. When James asked why he was told that two other staff were overheard “Let’s get our 357 Magnum and blow these guys away.” They asked themselves, how could this happen in a nice peaceful Buddhist organization?

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Many years later James confronted one of the leaders and asked if he had made that threat and he confirmed that he had planned to do so, later his wife held a gun to his head and said he’d better get ahold of his anger or he’d find himself dead. He decided to take her advice.

At this time our little bouncing boy was six months old and an opportunity came up for James to go to Japan. There was also time for James to extend his plans to go to the head temple and speak directly with the priests. He was studying landscape architecture at UCLA extension and was able to tour with a study group from UCLA extension which would travel to various gardens and sites.

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James had planned after the tour to then travel on alone to the foot of Mt. Fuji to visit the main temple of Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism. This was a time that our Buddhist faith was being tested.

The group was on tour for about 12 days when they came to the castle at Himeji. If you have ever read the book or seen the movie Shogun, it was filmed on this site. The group arrived by train and James had finished playing with some local children a game, rock, paper, scissors. As he was about to get off the train a young man sitting some rows behind him handed him an origami paper bird and said in perfect English, “Beware of the winds of Himeji.” They exchanged business cards and in the next moment the bullet train sped away. James proceeded to take the castle tour then back to the train station. In the back of James’ mind he reflected on this warning.

During the tour there was a violent wind and the Jacaranda trees where blowing everywhere, but the time was relatively uneventful. As the group was preparing to re-board the rain, James was bending down to put something into his bag and someone yelled at him in Japanese. As he turned to look, a two hundred pound sign fell on his back and knocked him to the ground. The wind had come into the train station from the opening in the roof where the old steam engines let out the smoke. The sign had been tied down usually, but this time it was not, and even that weight was not a match for the winds. The officials did not want to cause a scene so they called for a taxi to take James to a hospital. The tour group went on and only one member from the tour stayed behind with James. Thank you Tori for your invaluable help.

It is a frightening thing being alone in a foreign county not speaking the language and being injured. James went into shock and was not thinking clearly. He was taken to two hospitals and then went on a train to rejoin the tour in the major city of Kyoto. As he was being accompanied by an official of the government owned transportation entity, they tried on several occasions to test him to see if he was faking and there was talk of a bribe. The American Consulate told James not to take any money; even if it was called a gift it would be taken as everything was now settled. So when the large envelope stuffed with money was pushed across the table, James pushed it back.

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Kyoto Hotel.

James called me and his first words were he was okay but…… He then proceeded to tell me of his ordeal. I also told him of the assassination attempt on President Reagan that had just happened as well. It was very uncomfortable being at home taking care of our new baby and having your husband injured in a foreign country. I felt very helpless and chanted a great deal.

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James had budgeted his money to make it stretch. At the close of the tour he would be staying at very small hotels and hostels to save money. After his injury he was taken to one of the most expensive hotels in Tokyo, the Keio Plaza and told not to worry about the bill.

As he was checking out they wanted him to pay the bill himself. This was one of many incidents that happened to James. He did not go on his pilgrimage to the head temple but came home in a wheel chair. To this day we are thankful that he can walk and yet he still experiences numbness and tingling.

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James, our son Eric, and I. Photo by Chris Casler.

We were glad to be back together, but this was just the beginning of an intensive search that would last for the next 3 years. This involved going to different workshops-Erhardt Seminar Training, Creative Personal Interaction, New Trust Network, Essential Experience with David Crump who worked with , Sexual Self Expression, Communication teams for Stewart Emery, visiting ashrams, hanging out at the Muktananda ashram in Santa Monica, designing a center for Rajneesh, Yoga at 3HO Happy Healthy Holy Yogi Bhajan’s Center, Insight Meditation, Rebirthing, crystals, astrology, charts, palm reading, spirit guides, a séance, New Age workshops, deep tissue work, acupuncture, and even Amway.

29.0 Goal to be First Buddhist Amway Diamonds

by Elizabeth Stephens

James was a driven man trying to find the truth. Through his accident in Japan, we had met a friend of a tour member who had become the attorney who was handling our case against Japan National Railway. Tim asked if he and his wife could stop by one evening. Someone wanted to visit us? What a surprise! Fantastic. We loved company.

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Tim our sponsor, Dave and Jackie our downline, and James and I excited to be building our own business.

We were searching to expand our community and  for people who wanted to have deeper working relationships. Although the visit was fairly brief, we knew after a few minutes that it was strictly business and although cordial, we felt a bit uncomfortable and disappointed that it was not social. It was only to show the plan and we felt used, but we decided to join in the business as we felt it was an excellent opportunity. If you know anything about the process, sponsors look for people who are well networked and socially involved, in business terms you are a “bird dog” that may lead them to others who might also be interested in building a business. We were naturals because we were already highly trained as Buddhists and had no fear of talking to others. So, we had simply moved from being “evangelists” for Buddhism to “evangelists” for Amway.

However, there was a part of this business strategy that we were never very comfortable with. It was the part where you share the business plan; we thought it would be better to share our Buddhist faith. After all what was the most important to us was our faith not the money issue.  I remember sitting outside a Mercedes dealership, we were supposed to be dream building and yet we were talking about our faith.

During the meantime, our first daughter Sheila was born and we became a family of four. She was such a delight. I remember the extended family was so happy to have the first girl in thirty years. There was a joke that we had a baseball team of boys and now we have the first girl.

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Here we are dedicating our daughter to the Buddhist faith. Although we were surrounded by those who believed in God, we were still devoted to our Buddhist faith and consistently visualized being on stage as the First Buddhist Amway Diamonds.

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James, Eric, Sheila and I at Myohoji Temple in Etiwanda with the local Nichiren Shoshu Priest following a consecretion ceremony.

Early in 1984, our upline Diamond challenged his distribution network leaders to get serious about their businesses and show the Amway plan 90 times in 90 days. We believed that we were destined to be successful distributors and and would not have to worry about money again. That was a definite plus although we had never been driven by money and yet the thought of having enough without scrapping by month after month was appealing.

That summer, James and I had consistently shown the plan morning, noon, and night, including follow-ups where we picked up decision packs and hoped to sign others up as distributors. Los Angeles was in the midst of the Summer Olympics and some Olympic events were being held in Santa Monica.

James began to have terrifying dreams about blood running in sinks, spirits coming out of closets and was asking more and more questions at the Joint Headquarters for which he received no answers. Meetings were scheduled with visiting leaders from Japan which I also attended, but the high level leader dismissed me as a woman and acted in a very condescending manner to our honest questions, although we had been involved in building the movement in the US for nearly fourteen years, he had only been a member in Japan for about ten years. Cancelled meetings, threats, and then a general disinterest from those in the organization. We began to doubt the sincerity of the leaders. Were we merely pawns to them? What happened to humanistic Buddhism, world peace and human revolution?

At one time, James even sent a letter to all the Young Men’s Division who had signed a pledge that we’d help each other if any one of us ever though about going taiten (leaving the faith). Only one finally answered the letter, Dave M. It was as if the doors were closing left and right, but there was a big door about to open for us both.

After James’s accident in Japan, he’d left the design build firm he was working for in Pacific Palisades and got a job doing architectural blueprints in Santa Monica. Although he liked the owner, it was a humbling step down for him working in an ammonia laden room delivering blueprints to his peers. One day, a young female architect named Laurie came in to his shop and asked him, “Do you know of any Christian churches in the area?”

James responded, “No. I’m a Buddhist, but some of my Christian friends may know of one.”

About a week passed and Laurie returned to pick up another set of blueprints. She said to him, “I’ve got a something I want to give you. I’ll drop it off tomorrow.” As she was leaving she kindly said, “I’ve been praying for you.”

James was sincerely moved by her concern. The next morning when he opened up the shop, there was a package with a card on the back step. The card read, “Seek and Ye Shall Find, Knock and It Shall Be Opened to You.”  The two books were, Beyond Buddhism by J. Isamu Yamamoto and More Than A Carpenter by Josh MacDowell. He devoured them. He was challenged by the prophecies that had come true in Jesus’ lifetime. It was difficult to deny that He had been an historical figure.

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Another evening, he met Craig about 10 pm after one of his house meetings and asked him more about this Jesus. Craig invited him over to his house and shared with him for awhile and loaned a Bible to him and said, “Why don’t you go home tonight, get down on your knees at the foot of your bed and ask God to reveal Himself to you.”

Fair enough,” he responded. So that night when James came home he pulled out a Bible and started reading it. The passage that caught his attention was Second Peter 3:10 which says, “The Day of the LORD will come like a thief in which the heavens and earth will pass away in a roar and all the elements will be consumed in intense heat. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness?” He became increasingly troubled and asked himself, “What if I’m wrong? Although we as Buddhists believe in reincarnation, what if there is only one life and there is no exit from hell? What if the Christian hell is real? I’ll be lost forever.”

It was about day 76 when James made a decision to visit Clarence, a Nazarene pastor in his  Santa Monica Church office. His father Carlton had introduced him to him earlier and James had shared the Amway sales and marketing plan with him.

But that day was different. James was extremely exhausted and spent, but he was doing what he had to hoping that our fortune and karma would change. It was our worldview at that time.  However, during that meeting with the pastor James, who had grown increasingly uncomfortable with the lack of answers from fellow Buddhist leaders, asked Clarence a number of questions about this man, Jesus. After an hour with the Pastor, Clarence asked him if he would like to ask Jesus to be his Savior and to ask the Holy Spirit into his heart. James wrestled in his spirit.

He said, “I don’t want to invite a spirit into my heart, but then again, the Holy Spirit is God. God created me. Who better to give control of my life to, but God?” So, he’d come to the realization that Jesus was God and accepted the Lord, Jesus Christ as his Master and God. When he came home that afternoon he walked in the door and he said to me, “I’m no longer a Buddhist. I gave my heart to Jesus.”

I pondered what the ramifications of that statement were to be. We had a floor to ceiling altar, a three door model, with exotic carved wood scenes of cherry trees and dragons(Butsudan), which is a house for the scroll we prayed to. We’d paid over $7500 for it as we were going to pass it down through generations. We were serious about our commitment. We had led many people into Buddhism. James had converted over 54 people himself. We were senior leaders. In addition we both had special smaller scrolls (amamori gohonzons) that we carried on our persons that were only given to members with exceptional devotion and years of service. We’d even taken vows when we received them never to quit the practice of Buddhism.

James then said, “Pastor Crites and his wife would like to come over this evening. Do you mind?”

“Not at all.”  I liked company and did not mind.