My “Three Golden Years”

How Erica Stein-Freedman brought her family closer by opening her heart.

Harmonious union—Erica and Geoff Freedman on their wedding day, July 25, 2015. Photo: © Koman Photography.

by Erica Stein-Freedman

My father was the president of a successful multimillion-dollar company, and my younger brother and I grew up in a 10,000-square-foot mansion in Beverly Hills, with famous celebrities as our closest friends.

All of that changed when I was 11 years old. My father got entangled in a very bad business deal and was arrested on charges of securities fraud. During the trial, we lost everything—our home, income, friends and extended family. The only people who remained were our SGI family, and they encouraged us every day.

I will always remember the unity and strength of my mother and father during that crucial time. My courageous mother took on two jobs to support my brother and me, and no matter how tired she was, she would wake up every morning at 5 a.m. to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo before taking us to school. She also made sure we never missed an SGI district meeting. Every night, my dad called us from prison, and we would chant three times together as a family over the phone.

My parents promised me that we would overcome all our struggles through this Buddhism, and that we would have more than we ever could dream possible in the future.

My dad wound up being sentenced to only two years in a minimum-security prison. After his release, he started a successful Internet advertising company, and, a few years later, my parents bought a beautiful kosen-rufu home for us. What I learned was that, with the Gohonzon, SGI President Ikeda and the SGI, I could turn any suffering into a source of unlimited value.

I asked myself while chanting in front of the Gohonzon, “What is the golden vision I am going to create for my own life?”

I was reminded of this crucial lesson two years ago, when I studied Sensei’s guidance about the “three golden years,” the period between 2013–2015, which he defined as “a time when we further expand our life condition, deeply and significantly, and cast off the transient and reveal the true for ourselves and the SGI in an astonishing manner” (see Jan. 16, 2015, World Tribune, p. 6).

I asked myself while chanting in front of the Gohonzon, “What is the golden vision I am going to create for my own life?” I wrote down “to have the most harmonious family”—because, at the time, we were anything but harmonious.

My brother and I had gotten into a terrible fight and went for months barely acknowledging each other. Our rift was extremely painful for me because, when our dad went to prison, my brother and I were best friends and each other’s protectors.

During this difficult time, I began wholeheartedly dedicating myself to my Buddhist practice, determined to make as many causes as possible for my family’s happiness. In 2013, I helped two close friends receive the Gohonzon, including Jaclyn, the only childhood friend who stayed by my side when my dad went to prison.

My brother and I had just begun speaking to each other when my boyfriend, Geoff, proposed to me on May 7, 2014. As soon as we got engaged, I had another opportunity to test the strength of my practice.

When Geoff explained to his parents that his beliefs aligned with mine, and that we would be having a Buddhist wedding, they were extremely upset. Everything came to a head in late December 2014, when my future mother-in-law called me on the phone to say she had found a rabbi to officiate our wedding.

Our conversation ended with us yelling and hanging up on each other. I immediately ran to the Gohonzon and chanted for two hours straight just to calm down.

At the same time, my brother was suffering deeply, but I lacked the compassion to truly listen to him. Eventually, after one of our conversations, something clicked, and I realized just how unhappy he was.

That’s when I broke down. I cried and cried telling the Gohonzon: “I will change whatever it is in my life that is preventing me and my family from being happy! What do I need to change for my family to change?!”

After seeking guidance from a women’s leader, I realized that I had no compassion whatsoever for my fiance’s mother. Because I had closed off my heart, I could only see the aspects of her that bothered me. I stopped seeing her as “my problem” but as Geoff’s mother and a woman who is so full of love.

I also received guidance about my brother. I thought I knew what was “best” for him. The truth was, I never listened to anything he had to say, because I was too busy trying to control him. I started chanting for him to be happy and to fulfill his mission as a disciple of Sensei in his own unique way.

After my breakthrough realizations, my environment started shifting immediately. My brother opened up about his struggles. For the first time, I listened with my heart. A few weeks later, he attended his first district meeting in years, and told me after that he had felt tremendous joy.

Then, Geoff’s mom, Jill, called me, and we spoke for almost three hours. I listened to her as she honestly opened up to me about her struggles. A week later, Jill told me that she had called the Florida Nature and Culture Center and found a local district in South Florida, where she lives. My future parents-in-law attended their first SGI district meeting the next night. They loved it so much that they decided to join the SGI!

On March 18, 2015, Geoff’s mom and dad received the Gohonzon, and the next day, on March 19, my brother received the Gohonzon back home in Santa Monica, California!

Geoff and I married on July 25, 2015, and it was the happiest day of my life. My entire family did the most beautiful, harmonious gongyo at the ceremony, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Although my husband is not an SGI member, he chanted with me every day and learned gongyo for the wedding. In his vows, he shared how my Buddhist faith is what makes our relationship strong, how my passion and dedication to the SGI is one of the reasons he fell in love with me. He is truly the most supportive and loving husband.

The wedding was also a pivotal moment in faith for Geoff’s mom. Leading up to the wedding, Jill chanted to be healthy enough to travel from Florida to California. She suffers from osteoporosis and previously fractured her spine. Because of her sincere prayer, she was able to walk down the aisle for the ceremony. She even got down on the dance floor during the reception!

As for my parents and Geoff’s parents, they are best friends and talk on the phone almost every day. At our wedding, they would not stop taking selfies! My brother was Geoff’s best man, and they have the most incredible friendship. Thanks to the power of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, I honestly can say now that I have the family of my dreams.