Saturday, October 25, 2008

Addiction...2 More Gone

Sometime last week, here in the Fresno area, a young woman's body was discovered on the side of a road wrapped in a blanket. At first it was assumed that she was the victim of homicide. It was learned, however, that she had died from a drug overdose and her body had been discarded. Discarded by whom? A couple of days ago another body was found - this time it was a man found in a dumpster. Again, he died of a drug overdose and his body was put in the dumpster.

How sad! When my kids were caught up in drug addiction they believed with all their hearts that the people they were hanging out with were real friends. It was so hard for me to watch my kids dedicate so much time and emotion to people with whom they had little in common, outside of the drugs. I wonder if it was "friends" who dumped the bodies of the two young people who so tragically lost their lives to their addiction. In the days and hours prior their deaths, they were most likely hanging out, maybe watching TV or listening to music. I bet they told a few jokes, laughed with their friends, talked on the phone, or maybe bought a gallon of milk and a pack of cigarettes at 7-11. A few days before their death they may very well have been in the trusted company of people they cared about - and then they died.

What went through the minds of the people who discovered the body of their friend? Did they panic? Did they feel remorse or fear? Was it a group of people who came up with the plan to dump the body of their friend, or was it a lone person? I know from watching the effects of drugs ravage the minds of my beautiful children that when a person is using they cannot think clearly or rationally. A user sees things that are not real, feel things that cannot be felt when sober, and rationalizes where there is no logical rationale.

There were so many nights I laid awake praying that the body found in a sleazy motel room, or in a dark alley would not be that of my child. Today I am praying for the families and friends of two young people who are the latest victims of this terrible disease called addiction.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Africa...some final thoughts

We flew out of Malawi on Wednesday, July 9, 2008 and flew first to Nairobi, Kenya. After a 12-hour layover we flew to London, then Chicago, then finally to Los Angeles. We arrived home in Fresno on Friday, July 11 at about 4:00 in the afternoon where we were greeted by a throng of family members and supporters. It was good to be home.

I wanted to share some of the general impressions and thoughts about Malawi, Africa. Malawi is called, "The Warm Heart Of Africa" because the people are very friendly and kind. That, in fact, was our experience. We were treated with so much respect and love. Wherever we went throngs of people followed us, touched us, and just simply wanted to be close to us. I pondered all the photos of Hollywood celebrities who travel to Africa and I've seen the photos showing the sea of people that follow the entertainment elite from place to place. Well, we are "nobodies", but still we were treated like rock stars simply because we were Americans. It sort of put all those celeb pics in perspective!

The fresh fruit in Malawi is the BEST I've ever tasted, although we didn't have it very often. The papayas are so sweet and juicy; the bananas are small, but very sweet. The avocadoes were as big as cantaloupes and amazingly delicious! No matter where we went we were surrounded by sugar cane, and we often saw people (even students in classrooms) chewing on the sweet treat. Every street, every path, every road, and every trail was littered with dried cane, and chewed up, spit out, dried up pulp.

The villagers truly seemed to support and defend one another. They worked together and were a loving example of community. I was humbled by their kindness and deep appreciation for the simplest of things. The population of one nearby village had been walking a mile and a half each way to the nearest water well, and they make that trip sometimes several times a day. They had to do this because the well in their village had been broken for a year and a half. It cost 15 American dollars, and about 30 minutes of time for our guys to repair that well! It doesn't take much to make a real difference in these communities.

We here in America seem to often think that everyone in the world wants to be an American, or that everyone wants to live here and have what we have. That isn't really true. The Malawians definitely struggle and they could use some help and support, but it takes SO LITTLE to improve on what they have. The appreciation runs so deep!

Everything about the trip was beautiful and fulfilling. It was only 4 short years ago that Giana was addicted to Meth, a runaway, and sleeping on the streets. I will forever be grateful for the gift of spending three weeks in Africa with my strong, confident, brave daughter. She is a living, breathing miracle and she's the strongest person I know.

After hearing Gia's testimony and then hearing what I went through to rescue and save Gia, one of the young women on the trip said, "Liz, you are the strongest woman I've ever met". In so many ways the trip was a time of emotional healing for me. A "friend" of mine told me a few years ago that she no longer felt comfortable being my friend because I was "too weak". For a long time I believed her. Isn't it amazing how we believe the negative, but dismiss the positive words of encouragement spoken to us? I've had to walk through unimaginable trauma and grief, but I am still here. I have NOT always handled the stress well, and I've lost big chunks of my heart and soul, but I am still here. I've survived things that have destroyed many a human being and I need to trust in my strength.

I shared in one of the earlier blogs about the spiritual warfare that went on in Africa. The warfare is very subtle here in America, but it is often obvious and in your face in Africa. The team spent time before and during the trip talking openly about how Satan might attack, and John was transparent in his struggle, and in his faith. While the guys were visited by an evil physical presence, Satan's attack on me was way less obvious. My attacks came in the way of fear, bad dreams about my children, and painful words from my past. In the quiet of the African nights, the words from my past held wild parties in my head.

So, this is what I learned and know... God hates sin and He hates gossip and lies both about and among His people. If you defend gossip or make excuses for it, you are going against God. Being imperfect makes you human; defending sin makes you an enemy of God. If you aren't a Christian, I'm not talking to you here. I know and love many non-Christians and I have a great deal of respect for your unabashed honesty. However, if you claim to be a Christian then God holds you to a place of high accountability. Do not defend gossip ("you can't stop people from talking") and do not defend sin. It is our responsibility to hold one another accountable. We do, however, need to not judge someone just because they "bug us", but rather we need to be sure that we are addressing real sin. If God hates it, why do we defend it or make excuses for it?

I can’t wait to go back to Africa. The warm heart of Africa holds a piece of my heart. Thank you John Richardson and Northwest Church for the incredible gift of ministering beside my daughter for a few weeks during the Summer of 2008.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


The last entries of the journal I kept in Africa covers the last few days of the trip. More from July 9, 2008 - written during a long lay-over at the airport in Kenya:

Sunday afternoon after our time with Marco we took some frightening public transportation to get to the top of N'Durande Mountain. I swear, shocks for vehicles must be against the law in Malawi! It was a very terrifying trek up that mountain! However, the view from the top was pretty amazing and almost worth the white-knuckle trip.

From the top of N'Durande Mountain we could plainly see just how close the buildings are to one another in the city. It really looked like one of those ant farms inside a glass box! Millions (well, 900,000) of people scampering and bumping into one another, all apparently having someplace to go or somewhere to be. From the top of the mountain you could see the entire town!

The air quality in urban areas of Malawi is terrible. That surprised me as I expected Africa's air to be relatively untainted. But the reality is, there is very little electricity, so everywhere you go someone (or everyone) is stoking a fire where they are burning trash, cooking a meal, keeping warm, or roasting a rat. The air smells awful and I was never able to specifically identify the smells, although I suspect it was the roasting rats :)

On Monday we went on Safari! It took us 3 hours to get to Liwonde National Park and it was a loud and bumpy ride (as usual). John had made arrangements for a jeep to pick us up at the gate and take us into the park where we were to eat at the restaurant, then embark on the safari. Well, the jeep wasn't there to meet us, and in fact even after John made several phone calls, it never did arrive. John was brilliant under pressure and although he is very young, he is a great leader! Our regular driver ended up driving us into the park.

The buffet at the restaurant was really great, although they ended up running out of food and because John let all of us go first, he got a few pieces of bread and that was it! Everything was so beautiful, but the staff did not handle challenges very well. We, along with all the other guests, had made reservations, so why did they run out of food? John did get a percentage of our bill deducted.

The safari was very fun. We rode in an “Indiana Jones” like jeep and got as close as we possibly could to warthogs (they are so great), elephants, monkeys, and alligators. It was a good day.

Our last day in Chiwaya was Tuesday and we prepared a "Love Feast" for our hosts. In years past, it was the villagers who had prepared the Love Feast for the team as a way of saying Thank You for the work the team had done in the village. However, John wanted us to prepare the meal this year. So, we made pasta and meat sauce, salad, fruit, and bread (the fruit is so delicious here, we just didn't have enough of it!). It was an emotional and beautiful day. Words can't describe the joy of being there, talking with the great people, learning to appreciate how "much" little really is, and understanding what it is to respect and share with your neighbors.

Giana is so amazing! So many people gave up on my family (specifically my kids), but again I say...You're missing out! You are missing out on witnessing first hand a miracle and you are missing out on knowing the beautiful, strong, and amazing Miss Gia!

Africa, cont...

The last entries of the journal I kept in Africa covers the last few days of the trip. More from July 9, 2008 - written during a long lay-over at the airport in Kenya:

Sunday afternoon after our time with Marco we took some frightening public transportation to get to the top of N'Durande Mountain. I swear, shocks for vehicles must be against the law in Malawi! It was a very terrifying trek up that mountain! However, the view from the top was pretty amazing and almost worth the white-knuckle trip.

From the top of N'Durande Mountain we could plainly see just how close the buildings are to one another in the city. It really looked like one of those ant farms inside a glass box! Millions (well, 900,000) of people scampering and bumping into one another, all apparently having someplace to go or somewhere to be. From the top of the mountain you could see the entire town!

The air quality in urban areas of Malawi is terrible. That surprised me as I expected Africa's air to be relatively untainted. But the reality is, there is very little electricity, so everywhere you go someone (or everyone) is stoking a fire where they are burning trash, cooking a meal, keeping warm, or roasting a rat. The air smells awful and I was never able to specifically identify the smells, although I suspect it was the roasting rats :)

On Monday we went on Safari! It took us 3 hours to get to Liwonde National Park and it was a loud and bumpy ride (as usual). John had made arrangements for a jeep to pick us up at the gate and take us into the park where we were to eat at the restaurant, then embark on the safari. Well, the jeep wasn't there to meet us, and in fact even after John made several phone calls, it never did arrive. John was brilliant under pressure and although he is very young, he is a great leader! Our regular driver ended up driving us into the park.

The buffet at the restaurant was really great, although they ended up running out of food and because John let all of us go first, he got a few pieces of bread and that was it! Everything was so beautiful, but the staff did not handle challenges very well. We, along with all the other guests, had made reservations, so why did they run out of food? John did get a percentage of our bill deducted.

The safari was very fun. We rode in an “Indiana Jones” like jeep and got as close as we possibly could to warthogs (they are so great), elephants, monkeys, and alligators. It was a good day.

Our last day in Chiwaya was Tuesday and we prepared a "Love Feast" for our hosts. In years past, it was the villagers who had prepared the Love Feast for the team as a way of saying Thank You for the work the team had done in the village. However, John wanted us to prepare the meal this year. So, we made pasta and meat sauce, salad, fruit, and bread (the fruit is so delicious here, we just didn't have enough of it!). It was an emotional and beautiful day. Words can't describe the joy of being there, talking with the great people, learning to appreciate how "much" little really is, and understanding what it is to respect and share with your neighbors.

Giana is so amazing! So many people gave up on my family (specifically my kids), but again I say...You're missing out! You are missing out on witnessing first hand a miracle and you are missing out on knowing the beautiful, strong, and amazing Miss Gia!

Africa, cont...

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

I'm writing this from the airport in Kenya. We are almost 1/2 way through a 10-hour layover. Catherine, Josh, Derek, John, and Nic went into Kenya for a bit. Catherine lived here for six hears before Josh was born and she was exited to show him some of the country. Gia and I could have gone, but we're both feeling really tired.

The last couple of days have been jam-packed. On Sunday afternoon - once most of the team was together, we made our way back through the "streets" of N'Durande to Marco's church where we were treated to lunch. They served us chips and salad (french fries and coleslaw).

After lunch John went back to the bus station (more like a bus "corner”) to meet the other team members, who had spent the morning in Chiwaya Village. We were told to think of questions to ask Pastor Marco. Only Daniel and I asked questions. I don't know if the kids were tired or disinterested. I suspect they were tired.

We asked Marco some basic questions about N'Durande and the surrounding areas. In the past ten years the town has grown from a population of 250,000 to over 900,000! It's no wonder that when walking through the streets and between the buildings, I felt rather like toothpaste being forced from a tiny opening.

Back to the questions and answers....
Daniel and I had a tough time thinking of questions, but we managed to keep the conversation going. I asked Marco about the largest religious denominations in the area. He said the Catholic Church claimed the largest numbers, followed by Seventh-Day-Adventists, Muslim, and Mainstream Christianity. I had always heard about the large presence of SDA's in Africa, but I saw if first hand as I saw many SDA churches and signs directing passers-bys down a path to the nearest church.

When John returned to the group with the rest of the team, the conversation with Marco turned to spiritual warfare, witchcraft, and demonic possession and deliverance, as that is the focus of Marco's ministry.

Demonic possession is very prevalent here in Africa and Marco had some amazing stories of deliverance. Witch doctors cast spells on children, who then take the demons home to their families. Often the demons manifest themselves in very real and outrageous ways - wild movements, screaming, heavy breathing, and all manner of "The Exorcist" like activity.

I really don't know if the kids were shocked, scared, confused, or simply didn't know how to respond, but they didn't have one single question on the subject. That surprised me. Back at our village digs the guys had been dealing with a lot of dark spiritual activity in their room. One night one of the guys woke up and realized that the side of his face was very, very hot. When he turned his head to look toward the heat he saw two red eyes looking at him. I've already written about the figure that was floating over the one of the guys while he was sleeping. The visits were almost nightly. The girls were thrilled to have been exempt from the visits! However, about two weeks into the trip, the guys would see a presence in their room and just wake up, look at it, and say, "Really? Again? Seriously, you need to go away". So much for fear :)

Satan is so much subtler in America. John pointed out that Satan doesn't want to show himself in America because people aren't interested in fighting an enemy they can't see. So, it benefits Satan to stay hard to define, hard to see, and subtle. I personally believe that if Satan were to prove he was real, people would HAVE to believe in the reality of God as well. That would not be good for Satan. The more atheists and agnostics there are, the better for the devil!

After our meet and greet with Pastor Marco (who was John's roommate when he was here on his DTS), we wound our way back through the sewage and sludge to the bus corner where our ever faithful bus and driver were waiting for us. Inside the bus are several bumper stickers. One of the stickers says, "Love Bubbles Of Joy", so that's what we called the bus.

Wherever we go children and people follow. The people yell and point, "azoongoo", which is slang for "white people". We greet them by saying, "Mulebwangi" (“how are you?”), or we acknowledge their greeting by responding, "Ndillybueno, zikomo", which means, "I am fine, thank you". I don't know why they giggle whenever we speak to them in their language, but they always do. They're probably laughing at our ridiculous accents! One man asked me to be his girlfriend. Gia is very, very attractive to the Malawians and many would love to have her as their girlfriend.

The second we load the bus we are swarmed like honeysuckle in a beehive by all the street venders. They are selling everything from donuts and fried pies, to barbequed rats on a stick! No kidding! I saw a vender with about 20 skewers of cooked whole rats - maybe 5 rats to a skewer. Mmmmmm. Actually, Gia and I agree that if we weren’t concerned about disease we would want to try that delicacy!

We stopped at Shoprite on the way home. Shoprite is a lot like a super Wal-Mart - food, clothes, supplies, etc... The kids love Shoprite! Anyway, we bought ground beef and tomato sauce and pasta. Like I said earlier, they call ground beef, Minced Meat - which sounds like mincemeat, which is a combination of raisins, dates, nuts, sugar, and cinnamon. The idea of raisins mixed tomato sauce makes me smile :)

We got back to the camp in time to prepare dinner, clean up, have our evening service, and hit the sack.

More later.......

Monday, July 7, 2008

Africa, cont...

Monday, July 7, 2008

We spent yesterday in N’Durande. What a place! I suppose I would compare N’Durande to Chinatown in San Francisco, or what I've heart Harlem is. There are tons and tons of people - shoulder to shoulder, a wall of people. The houses are so close together that we literally had to turn sideways to pass between them. That was N’Durande.

Each one of the houses we saw was about the size of my family room. Some of the larger houses were the size of my family room and patio combined - but those larger homes were few and far between. The eaves of the houses were so low that Gia and I had to duck and crouch in order to move between the houses.

The pathways between the dwellings were sometimes made of brick or stone, but were mostly just hardened soil. There were clothes lines pulled tightly between the dwellings and many of the lines hung low with wet laundry.

Waste and sewage mixed with water ran like a stream between houses, making the paths more narrow and challenging. Small children played next to the sewage and sludge. The children ran after us, and followed us wherever we went. Even if they didn't follow us, they looked at us and gave us a "thumbs up".

The team split into three groups for the day. Four stayed in Chiwaya and ministered in Joseph's home church and then joined up with the rest of us around 1:30. My team was at a very tiny church in the middle of the cracker box like town. There were maybe 8 adults and around 12-14 children...and 9 of us.

The worship was great - as usual. Daniel spoke and Pastor Moses interpreted. Daniel did a great job and the people were so warm and welcoming.

After the service we waited a bit for John to come get us. We were served cold Fanta and Sobo, which along with Coke are the only soda brands available around here. Gia amazed everyone with her ability to open bottles with her teeth!

When John came to get us, we wove our way through a maze of hovels, people, and sewage until we ended up at one of the pastor's homes where we were given more Fanta and treated to television. The video the pastor put on featured a young Australian pastor who was born with no hands, arms, or legs. I've seen him before and he has an incredible heart and spirit. His desire to live and thrive is infectious and amazing!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Africa, cont...

Friday, July 4, 2008

It's Independence Day! On July 4, 1992 I was in London. Today, I'm in Africa. Those are the only 2 times I haven't been home for the July 4 festivities (oh, I suppose I was in Memphis for one July 4).

The drive here to Tiyamike was VERY long and VERY scary! The driver of our bus seemed concerned about the brakes. I don't know if he was worried they'd give out, or if he was trying to conserve them, but on the very steep downhill slopes he down shifted into 2nd gear to keep our speed down. He kept talking to his friends (2 guys who came to keep him company) in their native language (Chichewa), and motioning to the waning signs, pointing to the curvy road ahead, and wiping his brow. Very scary!

But...we made it!

When we pulled into the orphanage, the kids ran to meet us. Several of the children called out, "Is Cole here?" Cole is a young man who made the trip two years ago and he was well loved. Two of the girls ran up to Gia and hugged her and told her how much they had missed her. Gia was crying and hugging the girls. It was incredibly sweet.

We had stopped on the way here to have peanut butter sandwiches, but Will and Pam (they run this orphanage) had lunch saved for us. They served nsima and beans - which we ate with our hands. The beans were delicious.

We spent the afternoon playing with kids and babies - bubbles and Frisbees. The guys played football (soccer) and scored 2 goals to the other team's 4. For dinner we had nsima, Soya, and cabbage. Again, we ate with our hands, as there is not enough money to purchase utensils. The food was very good, although I'm missing fruit :)

I didn't sleep well - too many voices.

It's hot here!

July 5, 2008

Woke up yesterday morning to find that Gia wasn't feeling well. She "slept" on a small wicker couch and she didn't get much sleep at all. She woke up with a sore throat and swollen glands in her neck. Luckily, Catherine has enough Cipro to go around. Burke has the same symptoms and is also taking Cipro.

So.... I stayed in with Gia for a while in the morning. It turned out that was a good thing as breakfast was apparently awful! Gia and I had peanut butter and jelly on toast. Thankfully, Gia felt better by about 9:00 and we were able to join the group. We spent the morning cleaning, loving babies, etc... For lunch - nsima and beans.

After lunch the boys played soccer and the girls made bracelets, colored pictures, and played with stickers with the younger kids and older girls. The kids were again so appreciative.

In the afternoon, after the soccer game, we walked into "town" for sodas and snacks. The "town" consists of 6 or 8 run-down buildings lining a dirty, dusty road. It seriously resembles a turn of the (last) century old west town.

After returning to the orphanage Pam asked the girls to take turns through the night caring for 2 newborns. Catherine and I had the first shift - from 8-10. The downside of that was we missed the evening program, which included a dance-off that we heard was amazing.

Catherine and I took quick showers (yes, I said showers). The water was cold, but Bangula was incredibly hot and dusty, so the cold shower was fabulous! We missed dinner, but we decided we would grab a quick PB&J sandwich. We were in a huge hurry and I nearly snapped when I walked into our room after the shower and found the girls - who had just had dinner - hovering around the bread and peanut butter, eating like scavengers. Catherine and I got no dinner, had a tough few hours ahead of us, and I just wanted to eat a quick sandwich and get to the nursery. I know it doesn't sound like much, but at the moment it was a big deal.

I was pretty much awake all night long what with helping with the babies and then listening to the girls coming and going all night long. Even though it wasn't my shift, I sat with Gia and Bonnie for the 2-4am shift. We laughed a lot and it was such fun watching these girls with the babies! Jeffrey was three months old and fat and charming. He smiled and "talked" and laughed virtually every moment he was awake. Charity was three weeks old and tiny and precious. She was gorgeous.

The girls are exhausted today, but the night was well spent.

We're back now at Chiwaya Village. It's so nice to be back where it's cooler. The accommodations here are difficult, but so much better than Bangula. There we ate with our hands, here we have small, broken, flimsy spoons...much appreciated spoons. Here we squat over a hole, but in Bangula the outhouses are filthy and stinky and awful...and full. The weather is cooler here and we don't have to deal with bus and mosquitoes. I got lots of bug bites down in Bangula. There the nsima was well peppered with dirt. Here we have Yohanni's awesome clean nsima :)

There is a bit of drama going on now...boys picking on girls. However, it's minor compared to what it could have been over the past couple of weeks! Tonight for dinner we are having pasta and meat sauce! Ground beef is called, "minced meat" here. Whenever Yohanni says, "minced meat", I think Mincemeat and I think "Thanksgiving" :)

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Africa, cont...

Thursday, July 3, 2008

We spent yesterday at the orphanage in Amalika. It was very posh compared to the other places we've been. They have 18 teachers for 230 students. Compare that to Zoomba School, which had 18 teachers for 2,300 students!

Gia, Josh, Brian, and I worked with the pre-school students - singing songs and telling stories. They were pretty cute! One little girl - she looked to be about 3 years old - was climbing all over Gia. She was a serious climber! At the end of the morning the pre-school teacher told us the little girl was actually the oldest in the class, at 7 years old. She was clearly developmentally and physically delayed, but oh so adorable.

I did some painting, but we spent much of the afternoon singing with the team and a few other Americans, who were working at the orphanage. The girls were especially smitten with Colton from Georgia. On the day we landed in Africa the Fresno State Bulldogs baseball team had won the college world series. The team they defeated was the Georgia State Bulldogs, so Colton was a bit defensive about the fact that we were from the city that beat his team :)

All in all Amalika seemed to be a place that didn't actually NEED us in the way we've been needed so far. There were 2-story dorms, a large cafeteria, nice offices, computers, etc...

For lunch at the orphanage we ate peanut butter and BANANA sandwiches. That was a major treat! Last night for dinner...rice beans, cabbage, and scrambled eggs.

Today we're heading to Tiyamike Orphanage for a couple of days. Gotta pack...

Monday, June 30, 2008

Africa, cont...

African Journal
Monday, June 30, 2008

Yesterday morning 1/2 the team stayed in the village and went to church and the other half walked into "town" to go to church. Gia and I went into town.

The church here in the village is a Baptist Church, but the one we went to is a Pentecostal Church. It was everything a Pentecostal Church is - speaking in tongues, loud prayer, animated preaching, etc....

Chris shared his testimony and the team did the "Never Let Go" drama. Giana shared her testimony - she cried, I cried - she did an awesome job. She said her faith is growing...I'm so proud of her!

The pastor said something that rings in my heart and head..."You cannot get your miracle without God testing you."

The pastor spoke on the passage Genesis 22, which is about Abraham and Isaac. Abraham trusted God completely, and he was willing to sacrifice his son. But, God rewarded his faithfulness and provided a ram for the sacrifice - sparing Isaac.

One point was made that I had not thought about before. When Abraham went up the hill with Isaac he left the servants behind, telling them that he and Isaac would return after they worshiped. The reason he probably left the servants behind is he did not want anyone to try to talk him out of doing God's will. Surely someone would have said, "don't kill you son", or "you've misunderstood God!" Abraham didn't want anyone to talk him out of doing God's will.

After church we headed into town for Jungle Pepper Pizza. It was SO good - spinach, feta, and olives, with tomato sauce and oregano and cheddar cheese....mmmmmmm. I also indulged in an incredible ice cream cone! I think it might have been made with rice milk - delicious.

After spending about an hour and a half in town we reloaded the bus and went to see Chris and Karen (don't know the last name). Chris was John's teacher when he did his Discipleship Training Service here in Malawi. They were a delightful couple - he's British and she's German. Those who were here two years ago were able to spend quite a bit of time with them then, and Catherine was especially eager to see them and talk with them about her life and challenges.

After returning to camp from town, we had the option of doing laundry, or killing a couple of chickens for our dinner. Most of the girls chose to do laundry, but not before we witnessed the be-heading of at least one chicken. Several girls had a tough time eating dinner!

I had a really tough time sleeping last night. We have talked a lot about Spiritual Warfare and mine comes in the form of worry and fear. I dreamed a lot about Dallas and Drew and my fear for their safety and well-being. I wish I knew how to get control of those emotions and I REALLY wish God would heal me of this and give me peace!

This morning after breakfast (rice), a few of the team members went to finish the clinic - which they say looks great. I was with the group that went to work at Mike's house. We put a lime mixture on the walls. This serves as a primer. Without this primer the mud walls just crumble. It was VERY hard work and 3 1/2 hours later, we were tired, dirty, grimy, and just plain exhausted.

Unfortunately when we returned to camp for lunch, Yohanni served us more chicken and nsima. Now, in the light of day, we can see the heads and feet of the chickens in the pot. We couldn't see them in the dark last night. AAAHHhhhhh!!!

I'm really struggling today. I miss home. I miss my boys. My kids are becoming such good people and Satan knows how to squash my spirit - he keeps reminding me of reasons to be afraid.

Please God.....

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Africa, cont...

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Yesterday was another manual labor day...but oh so rewarding. For breakfast yesterday we were served rice pohla - which is exactly like the baby food rice we give our babies at 3-6 months of age. But, with a bit of sugar and cinnamon it's not so bad.

After breakfast 1/2 the team went to finish painting the clinic and 1/2 the team went to the next village up the hill - Williamsville - to work at the catholic run school in that village. The school was in better shape than the Zoomba School, but the classrooms were exactly the same - cement floors, nothing but a chalkboard, and each room STUFFED with bodies.

Yes, I was a part of the group that went to the school. Our job was to move bricks from their drying place to one big neatly stacked pile. These bricks were 1/2 the size of the bricks we moved the other day, so while they were heavy, the job wasn't as difficult as the work we did the other day.

We were done moving bricks by about 10:45 or 11:00 in the morning. After that we did the Noah skit for the students, shared testimonies, and left to head back to camp. When we left many, many children followed us - holding our hands, talking a bit, and laughing. I wondered...were they given permission to leave? Are the school hours undefined and flexible? There are always children around us, but seldom adults. No one seems to be worried about the welfare of the children (at least not in the way we worry here in the states), but they seem to go home each night and make it back to school each day. It turns out that yes, the students were told they could leave school and spend as much time with us as they wanted. You see, the Headmaster believed that spending time with the Americans was in and of itself a great opportunity to learn. I love that holistic approach to learning.... not all books, and tests, and drills, and facts, but learning through relationships. Aahhhh...what a concept.

We had peanut butter sandwiches (well, one sandwich) for lunch (again), and then we had a bit of free time to rest. It was nice to just veg. By the way...the white bread we use for our sandwiches is called, "Super White" and it is soft and oh so good. The "Super Brown" bread is good too, but one of the locals sells the white bread and we buy our supply from him, so we eat more Super White. Around 2:30 a group of us headed back to the football field. The guys played football (soccer), as did a couple of the girls. The rest of us played with the kids. We taught several kids how to throw a Frisbee, as they had never seen a Frisbee before. Some of them were quite good! The children know the song, "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star", so that's a fun song to sing with them.

On the way back from the football field I chatted with a local who is a Seventh-Day-Adventist. We talked Sabbath, Campmeeting, and Vegetarianism. He has three sons and teaches at an Evangelical College. He spoke very good English.

For dinner we had rice, greens, and a stew made of soy meat. Everyone loved it. For tasted like a Seventh-Day-Adventist potluck - like being 12 years old again :)

Last night during worship John shared with the team about the Spiritual attack that had gone on in the guy's room. Apparently a few of the guys woke up and saw a presence hovering over David. It is clear Satan is on the prowl and I am praying for peace! We are lucky that the girls have not had to endure any of these "visits".

We read Psalm 34 over and over and everyone crawled into bed - unafraid and ready for a good night's sleep.

It's morning now and everyone seems fine. Unfortunately however, Gina is very sick - chills, nausea, and fever. Perhaps we should postpone the hike we have planned for another day.

**Later in the evening....**

We did do the hike today up Mount Mulangi. It was strenuous, but well worth it! I had a lot of difficulty breathing and was so grateful that Nic had an inhaler for me to use. I was reacting to all the eucalyptus trees, I'm sure. Without the inhaler I'm not sure I would have made it to the top. I was REALLY struggling to catch my breath. That was really the first time I've had what I would call a real asthma attack! Note to self…next you go to Africa – bring an inhaler of your own!

The waterfall was so beautiful and the pool of water into which it fell was very deep and SO cold. All the kids jumped off a rock about 1/2 way up the mountain wall into the pool. I pretty much stayed out of the water, as it was just TOO cold.

Five of the boys were baptized. My mommy heart broke because Josh Olford was baptized, but Catherine (his mom) wasn't there to see it. Catherine stayed back at camp with Gina because Gina was just so sick. Since Catherine had been up the mountain before, she decided to stay with Gina. Catherine asked Gia to take photos for her if Josh decided to get baptized (a decision she didn't now whether or not he'd made). Chris is supposed to be videotaping everything, but when he got the camera out he realized the batteries were dead (and there is no electricity with which to re-charge at the camp). Luckily, I had the "flip" with me and was able to tape the baptism. Catherine was able to watch it when we got back to camp.

On our way out of Mulanji Park, we met up with a group of kids form England and Ireland who are doing mission work here in Malawi. We had seen them on the trail earlier - they were coming down as we were going up. They still had such a long way to go to get back to their camp, so we offered them a much-appreciated ride.

The English/Irish group had been in Malawi for 11 weeks and they had another 6 weeks or so to go. The girls on our team were swooning over the boys' accents :)

The truth that continues to hit me on a daily basis is that God HATES gossip, slander, lies about others, etc... There is NO excuse for the things that have been said to and about my family - period! To the people who shunned us - you missed out on the privilege of praying for my family and YOU missed out on the privilege of being a first hand witness to a miracle. Seeing Gia out here and watching her do what she does is nothing short of a miracle and I am incredibly privileged to watch her and so lucky to be her MOM!!! :)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Africa, cont...

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Today was hard and exhausting. Early this morning we took off to Zoomba School on the outskirts of Blantyre to meet students and help out with manual labor. We walked nearly five miles to the school.

At Zoomba School there are 18 teachers and 2,300 students! The elementary classrooms were made of cement floors and mud brick walls. The children were squished and squeezed like sardines - all sitting on the floor (no chairs of any kind). In each classroom there were no books, no computers, no posters, no toys...NOTHING AT ALL! One wall in each classroom had a chalkboard on which the teacher wrote the lessons. Each student had one very tiny pencil and a writing tablet on which to copy their lessons. Most of the classrooms had no windows, and those windows we did see were broken.

In grades 6, 7, and 8 the children sat at picnic table like set-ups. The tables were made of cement. In at least one classroom the students sat at desks - not the same desks we are familiar with, but desks nonetheless.

The Headmaster walked us around the school and introduced us to each teacher and classroom full of students. He said, "Good morning students", and the children immediately stood to their feet and in slow deliberate English they said, "Good morning Sir. How are you today Sir?" The Headmaster said, "I am fine", and he told them to sit. They were well mannered and respectful.

We ate a quick lunch (one peanut butter sandwich – the same thing everyday) after the classroom visits. Half the team went to paint blackboards, while the rest of us played with the students. We danced "The Macarena", and "The Hokey Pokey", but the students mostly just wanted to hold our hands and practice English.

The team gathered and ALL the students sat out in the dirt, practically piled upon one another, to listen to us. We performed the skits, "The Sin Chair" and "Noah's Ark". Josh and Olivia shared their testimonies. The students looked at us like we were rock stars!

The team presented the school with some gifts and they were so appreciative. We gave a couple of brooms made out of straw and some buckets. We also gave them ONE soccer ball (they call it football there) and all 2,300 students broke into applause when we showed them the ball!! ONE soccer ball stirred such unbelievable gratitude! Amazing.

As we were walking back to camp a young girl wanted to talk with me. I though she said, "I want to go to America", so I asked, "You want to go to America?" "No!", she exclaimed. "Here I have beautiful mountains and beautiful lake. Why would I leave Malawi?" She's right!

We in America assume everyone from other countries want to be us - have what we have, but that just isn't so!

We got back to camp and left almost immediately to walk another 2 miles to play soccer with the villagers. We walked past a coffee plantation and the beautiful!

Children are ALWAYS following us. Where do they all live? They must know when to go home. This is such a free and trusting culture. Oh sure, it is true that many of the people here see our skin color and assume we have money (and they want it), but the overwhelming sentiment is "Welcome! We are glad you are here!"

There is a "missionary" who lives at the top of the hill in what used to be the YWAM base. Word is this guy moved in, put a fence around his property, got dogs, electricity and a satellite dish, and doesn't speak to anyone. The villagers walk around him when he walks by, and he speaks to no one!

Today while we were walking to the soccer field, through the beautiful coffee plantation, the "missionary" drove by in his brand new SUV - cigarette hanging out of his mouth. Everyone on the team wants to...I don't know...maybe egg his house. He gives "missionary" a bad name, and it is shameful. The fact that he calls himself a missionary is just sad.

Gia is amazing. She has a huge heart and she cries whenever the amazing children surround her.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Africa, cont...

More from my journal:

Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Yesterday we painted the clinic. As I was painting I noted that in some places the wall was simply crumbling away. The chief was so appreciative for all we were doing. She is so excited to get a fresh coat of paint and not one bit concerned about the fact that her walls are crumbling away.

We got about half the clinic painted yesterday and we hope to finish today. After painting we returned to our base camp to clean up and prepare a program for the children of the village. Our team kids performed two skits - "Noah And The Flood", and "The Sin Chair". They did a great job.

Two of our kids shared their testimonies. Anabelle shared the pain she is dealing with right now over her father's affair and the apparent break up of her family. She is going through a tough time, but is still finding peace. Kyle shared too.

After the program the kids played a fun game - one that I remember playing years ago in a drama class, but had forgotten about. Everyone stands in a circle and one person is chosen to leave the room. Then a person is chosen from the circle to lead the group in a physical movement. The whole group begins to chant and clap and when the leader changes his/her movements, everyone follows and the one who has left the circle comes back in. The object of the game is to see how long it takes for the one who had left the room to figure out who the leader fun.

We had nsima and beans for dinner last night.

Now, about today....

This morning after breakfast 1/2 the team went back to paint the chief's clinic. I believe they would have finished, except they ran out of paint.

I was with the other 1/2 of the team. Our job was to relocate a very large pile of VERY heave home-made mud brinks from the drying area to the location of a soon-to-be building. The work was very hard, especially on the arms and back! Everyone, however, worked great together and got the job done.

After working hard all morning we went into Blantyre where we could shop and eat at Jungle Pepper Pizza. We were SO looking forward to pizza. Sadly, the pizza place had relocated, so we ate chicken and fries. My chicken was raw on the inside! So, no chicken for me. But, the fries were good :)

We shopped for souvenirs on the street in Blantyre and we heard, "Hey sister, sister! Don't forget about me!" It was an adventure! I stuck to Gia as she can hold her own with the aggressive peddlers.

After dinner (beef, rice, and greens) it was time for worship.

John encouraged us to pray over our newly purchased trinkets, as the craftsman may have created the trinket with evil spiritual intentions – in hopes of transferring an evil spirit to us. John also shared from Zechariah 8:16, 17: "These are the things you are to do: speak the truth to each other, and render true and sound judgment in your courts; do not plot evil against your neighbor, and do not love to swear falsely I hate all this", declares the Lord.

This is what I know - God HATES what happened to my family and He hates the things that have been said to me, about me, and even by me. There is NO justifying what happened - at least not in God's eyes.

John told the story of a group of people finding someone struggling in the flooded waters. The struggling person is helped to safety...that's kindness. Some days later, another person is found struggling in the flooded waters, and is helped to safety. Again, this is kindness. Finally, after several people are rescued from the floods, someone suggests they go up stream and figure out what is causing the flood, and then fixing the problem - this is justice.

God wants problems FIXED. We can't just keep pulling people from the floods. We have to find a way to stop the flooding. Well, I'm not sure who will dam the floods, but I do know it is the heart of God that we should treat one another differently.

Observation: When a vehicle drives down the dirt road here in the village (which is extremely rare), the children all move to the side of the road and stand still. The vehicles DO NOT slow down AT ALL! The children have respect for the thing that is bigger than they are. In town the many, many cars, trucks, bicycles, motorcycles, and pedestrians all share the road equally and with respect. There are no stoplights and although I did see one stop sign, our driver went right through it - respectfully of course.

There is no sense of entitlement. No, "I've got the right of way and you can't make me move" kind of mentality. Amazing! Oh, and while we were in Blantyre, Gia, Catherine, Gina, and I went to a wonderful hotel and had coffee - really good coffee. They served pound cake with the coffee for no extra cost. The bathrooms were fabulous - granite sinks, running water, and a real toilet....awesome!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Africa, cont...

Tuesday, June 24, 2008 (our first morning in Chiwaya, Malawi, Africa)

I believe the only way I'll truly know what day it is is to write daily in this journal. It will be easy to lose track of the days here - that much is very clear!

I slept great last night! What a relief! I was concerned that noises would make it difficult to sleep, but the earplugs worked great! You might wonder what noises I was concerned about. Well, I knew I'd be sharing a room with seven other girls and Kathryn (the only woman on the trip who is older than me) had already warned me she was a snorer.

Last night during worship, John pointed out the fact that in just the past few days we had seen a dramatic picture of how diverse worship venues can be. On Friday night we were in Visalia, California worshiping in a large, modern American church - very typical of the churches we're used to seeing...and God was there. On Sunday we stood at the back of St. Paul's Cathedral in London. Everything was grand and glorious - high sculptured ceiling covered with Biblical paintings, stained glass, marble and brass, pipe organ, and so much more...and God was there too.

Here we are buildings made of mud bricks and cement floors, no electricity, the thinnest of glass windows, no running water, no toilets or showers, no "modern" conveniences of any kind. In the sky we see the brightest stars and the blackest sky anyone has ever seen...and God is here too. A building does not the worship center make.

It’s great to see all these kids laughing together and having such a good time. They are comfortable around one another and they seem to genuinely like one another. It's fun to listen to them laugh with each other - and at themselves.

We are in the village of Chiwaya. Our hosts are Mike, Rafael and his wife Esther, and Yohanni (our cook). All these people work with YWAM (Youth With A Mission) and they are incredibly kind.

Last night for dinner we had rice and cabbage. It was SO good! This morning we had sticky rice with cinnamon and sugar...mmmmm :)

Yesterday we were taken to meet the chief of the village. She's a woman who looks much older than she almost certainly is. Rafael thinks she may only be in her mid-40's. She has a glow about her, but rarely smiles with her mouth open as she is missing most of her teeth. It is her job to settle the conflicts and squabbles among the villagers. She also serves as the midwife to all the women in the village. She was kind and welcoming. Later today we will paint her clinic for her.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Africa, cont....

Sunday, June 22, 2008 (written on the flight between London and Kenya)

Despite the fact that most of us did not sleep on the plane, we made it through a great afternoon in London, England. We saw many of the touristy sights - the castle, Big Ben, Trafalger Square, Westminster Abby, and Saint Paul's Cathedral (where Prince Charles married the 19 year-old Diana Spencer). We hopped on and off a BMW shuttle bus, stopping for 15-20 minutes at a time in each must-see location. London is beautiful and the people are genuinely kind. That was my experience when I was in London 16 years ago, and it seems true still.

We're all pretty tired already and we haven't even arrived in Africa. In fact we are only 1/2 way there!

The kids are great! I'm looking forward to getting to know each of the better...think I'll nap now.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Africa...the trip begins

On The Road To Malawi, Africa:

Saturday, June 21, 2008
It's 12:30 California time and we're in the sky somewhere between L..A. and Chicago. The in-flight movie is "Definitely, Maybe". I've never seen this move before, but it seems clever enough.

There's a light cloud cover just below us. Well, I guess it isn't actually a "cover". There are many fluffy clouds and through the large breaks I can see the shadows of the clouds on the green hills and valleys ground below - beautiful. Gia is sitting at my right - the window seat.

Most everyone in the group seems a bit sleepy, although only a few are actually sleeping. I wonder where we are. I just looked out the window and I see one lone building - and the clouds and shadows of course.

I just realized I may have left my light weight sweatshirt back on the bus. If that's the case, I may miss it when we get to London as it is supposed to be cool when we land there.

I began this trip feeling excited, anxious, and a bit scared. Satan has been trying to quiet my family for a long time. I can't wait to see what God will do with us now that we've survived (if only by the skin of our teeth).

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mother's Day

Mother's Day is rather odd. Like most holidays here in the United States, Mother's Day started out with one intention, and then commercialization took over and the citizens of this great country took the holiday and ran amok.

According to an Appalachian woman named Ann Jarvis started something called "Mother's Work Days" in 1858. Ms. Jarvis organized women throughout the Civil War to work for better sanitary conditions for both sides, and in 1868 she began work to reconcile Union and Confederate neighbors. After the civil war a social activist by the name of Julia Ward Howe came up with an idea inspired by both Ms. Jarvis and a British holiday held three weeks before Easter called, "Mothering Day". Ms. Howe called for women to unite against war and in 1870 she wrote the "Mother's Day Proclamation" as a call for peace and disarmament.

But it was Ann Jarvis's daughter - who was also named Ann Jarvis - that really helped to establish our modern Mother's Day traditions. When the elder Ms. Jarvis died in 1905 her daughter was devastated and she missed her mother so. On May 10, 1908 the younger Ann gave carnations to all the mothers who attended the Sunday service at the Methodist Episcopal Church in West Virginia - the church where her mother had taught Sunday school. She simply wanted to honor her mother's memory and hoped that others would take a day to thank their mothers as well. In 1914 President Woodrow Wilson declared the first national mother's day, as a day for American citizens to show the flag in honor of those mothers whose sons had died in war. And the holiday exploded from there!

Ms. Ann Jarvis became a huge opponent to what Mother's Day became, and she spent the last years of her life saddened by the commercialization of the holiday. How very disappointing.

So, why did I start this post with the words, "Mother's Day is rather odd"? Let me state right here, I really like getting cards, candy, and flowers, and I love going out to lunch to the restaurant of my choice. However, the fact is (in my mind anyway) us moms are just doing what comes naturally - what we were created to be and do. It's true that not all moms are good moms! We hear news stories all the time about women who have hurt, maimed, abandoned, sold, or even killed their own children. This is a sad reality. But most of us are just doing what comes naturally when it comes to our mothering responsibilities. We do what we were created and put on this Earth to do. It’s not always an easy job, but being a mom is a great job.

There are some moms who REALLY deserve to be honored on this Mother’s Day. I pay homage today to the single dads who are also "Mom"; to the grandmas who have stepped up to the mothering plate again long after their own kids grew up; to the friends and neighbors who stand in the mommy-gap; to the adoptive mothers whose arms are finally full, and to the brave moms who give their unplanned children life....and then give them up for a better life. It is you all who really deserve to be honored today.

To my own children I say, thank you for honoring me today. Thank you for loving me when I'm grumpy, for trusting me even though I'm sometimes wrong, and for forgiving me when I act the fool. Thank you for every home-made card, every extra special coupon book made especially for me, every "I Love You", every painted hand print, every dirty finger print, and every crayon masterpiece you created so lovingly. Thank you for every challenge you have brought to my life as you have helped me to grow into the woman I am today. Feel free to ease up on those challenges anytime :)
Happy Mother's Day.

Monday, February 25, 2008

We're Not In Italy?

Several years ago Dear Abby printed a letter from a mother whose child was born with Down’s syndrome. Mom said she was often asked what it was like raising a child with a disability and she said it was like planning a trip to Italy—learning the language, reading the brochures, boarding the plane to Italy, then unexpectedly landing in Holland.

Everyone around you is going to Italy and bragging about their special plans, and you mourn the fact that you don’t get to go to Italy too. However, if you spend all your time wishing you were in Italy, you will miss the natural beauty that surrounds you in Holland.

And why do I retell this story? Well, I can identify with that letter from that mom. When I was sixteen I had a VERY clear picture in my mind depicting what my life would look like. I would get married, I would be on stage performing in plays, I would have babies, they would grow up wonderful and perfect, they would get married and have babies, and we would all live happily ever after.

Thankfully, none of my three children were born with any kind of disability and in fact they were all born healthy, beautiful, smart, and strong. However, my life has not turned out the way I planned it. I planned my life’s trip early on and I surrounded myself with many friends with whom I planned to share the journey. Those friends and their families went to Italy without us while my family went to Holland.

My trip wasn’t always pretty. In fact, I’ve been to slums and ugly out of the way hovels. I’ve seen flowers and garbage, green grass and manure, blue skies and stormy darkness. I’ve been to places few of my friends have ever encountered. I have framed snapshots displayed on the many shelves in the many rooms of my memory and if anyone is interested I’ll share the high and low points of my trip so far.

Yeah, it’s sometimes hard to hear everyone around me talk about his or her joyous experiences in Italy. I’ve always wanted to go to Italy. But you know what? I’ve been to secret places they can only imagine. The scariest part of my excursion was when the kids got lost in a strange land. I didn’t think I’d find them and the locals were of no help at all! But in the end, the kids were found and we continue the journey together.

So…we’re not in Italy, but we’re traveling together. And the adventure continues.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Who let who do what?

Yesterday I had a late afternoon meeting with an adorable young woman from my church. She is mature beyond her years and has had much more responsibility thrust upon her than most adults her age - and she handles it beautifully. Anyway, she shared a quick story with me during our time together. We were talking about the judgmental nature of us human beings.

The other day my young friend was at a sports game with her husband. Since his son from a previous marriage was playing, the husband's ex-wife was there as well. At one point a few years ago, we attended the church at which the ex-wife is still involved. During a break in the game my friend was going over her calendar with her husband and she happened to mention the upcoming meeting with me. The ex-wife overheard this, leaned over to my friend and said, "Liz Stoeckel. Isn't she the woman who let her kids take drugs?". My friend said, "Don't talk to me", and that ended that.

Yeah. I "let" my kids take drugs. Doesn't every good mom? Honestly. What possesses people to say such completely ridiculous things? I'll tell you what I am not about to "let" my children do - I am not about to "let" them die and that's why I've stood by them every step of the way as they've fought to survive and recover.

I refuse to LET you beat me down.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

E Ticket Ride

So, one of the perks of having a family member working at Disneyland is getting into the park for free. Of course, Drew quit working there before we got to take advantage of that perk (kids are so selfish ☺ ). Anyway, even though he no longer works at the happiest place on Earth, Drew was still able to score a couple of park-hopper passes and he offered them to Tom and I. The Park Hopper Pass includes admission to Disneyland AND California Adventure. Friday night we headed down to L.A. and 6 ½ bumper-to-bumper hours later we arrived at The Hilton Hotel in Anaheim. Saturday morning we hooked up with Drew and we were excited about spending the entire day at the parks. We’d never been to California Adventure before and since this is my birthday weekend, this was a great gift.

Drew was supposed to meet us at 10:am, but it takes forever and a day to park and shuttle your way to the front gate, so it was closer to 11 by the time he got to us. That’s okay…we had the whole day. We decided to get in line for the Indiana Jones ride and even though the predicted wait time was 50 minutes, we were strapped to the jeep about 40 minutes after getting in line. While waiting in line Tom started feeling dizzy and was suffering from a bad case of vertigo. When the ride was over I realized he was sweating profusely and Drew and I became concerned. I called Tom’s step-mom who is a nurse practitioner, but when she didn’t answer I called Tom’s aunt who’s a nurse. She wanted him to head to the first aid station right away. Tom had a difficult time walking because of the vertigo so he had to hold on to Drew and me and we supported him.

The happiest place on Earth employees the happiest nurses on Earth and everyone agreed Tom should rest for a bit. Since Tom had had a few bouts of vertigo over the past several weeks, I had packed some medicine for the trip, but it was (of course) back at the hotel. Drew and I decided to walk back to the Hilton to get the medicine and get it back to Tom. Drew thought he knew a shortcut back to the hotel….he was wrong. What should have been a 15 minute walk turned into a 30 or 40 minute tour of all things Disney.

After getting the medicine back to Tom, Drew and I checked out a filmed historical retrospect of Disneyland starring Steve Martin and Donald Duck. We then checked out the 3D show, “Honey, I Shrunk The Audience”. Both movies were way fun! When we went back to First Aid to check on Tom we found that during the 2-½ hours he’d been resting his symptoms had not subsided and his blood pressure was higher. So, after getting a hold of and conferring with Tom’s step-mom, dad, and the happy nurses, all agreed Tom should be transported by ambulance to the hospital. Well, it’s always fun to ride something new at Disneyland and Tom had never ridden in an ambulance before ☺

I rode shotgun in the ambulance and chatted with the young paramedic about his job and his mishaps as a child. He apparently dropped a brick on his own head and set himself on fire when he was about 3. We hung out in the hallway of the emergency room (two paramedics, myself, and Tom who was strapped to the gurney) for a thankfully short time and then went into triage. It was determined that Tom should undergo a few tests to rule out heart attack or stroke.

After being visited by several more happy nurses and a doctor or two the worse case scenarios were ruled out, so I went to find Drew. Since only one of us at a time were allowed in the emergency room, Drew went in and I hung out in the waiting room. About 20 minutes later Drew came out to tell me they had a diagnosis. Basically, Tom had a blockage in his inner ear that had broken free and was causing an upset in the balance of fluids – which was causing the vertigo. The high blood pressure is still of some concern so Tom will have to keep an eye on that. Since Tom was okay, Drew went to work across the street at Virgin Records and I went back in to await his release.

About this time, victims from a car accident were bought into the trauma room and the staff left us to deal with the more pressing problems. Tom was eventually released and we made our way out to the waiting room to find that it was now dark outside. Disney has a system down and they handled everything beautifully. They sent a car for us, and within 20 minutes of Tom’s release we were being driven by Disney security back to the park – with instructions to stay OFF the rides. So…we grabbed something to eat (we were both starving), spent an hour walking around California Adventure (we had to at least see it) where we were treated to an interview with “Crush” the Turtle.

We were only in California Adventure for about an hour before the park closed and then we walked back over to Disneyland in time to watch the fireworks. Since we figured most of the guests were on Main Street watching the fireworks we would try to get on the revamped Submarine ride – now featuring “Finding Nemo” (that seemed like a tame enough ride for Tom). Well, the line to get on the ride was bout 6 miles long! So, we got on “Pirates of The Caribbean” which has been updated and now includes lines from the movies and several life-like and very creepy Johnny Depp likenesses!

Tom was exhausted at this point as the medicine he had been given was doin’ it’s thing. So, we walked back to the Hilton. All in all it was an ‘E’ ticket day ☺

By the way…Disney gave us three passes to use at Disneyland another time. Yay! So, we won’t be able to get into California Adventure for free next time around, but we’ll definitely get back to the main park sometime before 2008 ends.

Friday, February 1, 2008

22 1/2 years later

My 23-year-old son spoke with his bio-dad last week. Despite my hope that the past 22 1/2 years had changed him, I suspect there is little difference. He admitted to a 22-year addiction to cocaine - that can't be good for the body or brain! He says he's been clean and sober since 2004.

Well, the door has been opened. We'll see...

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Real life vs. Fiction

Have you ever felt like you were watching your life on a giant movie screen from a spectator seat located high up in the nosebleed section of the world somewhere? When I think back on some of the chapters in my life it feels as if those things didn't really happen to me, but rather they happened to a character in a Danielle Steel novel I'd once read. When I was nineteen I moved to Memphis, Tennessee. One month before I turned 21 I married a man I'd met just six weeks earlier! Not a terribly smart move.

I was married to that man for 2 1/2 very tumultuous and surreal years. The challenges I faced during those thirty months could give Danielle Steel enough material for six novels! He was addicted to cocaine and as a result I survived financial battles, scary encounters with scary people, physical, mental, and emotional abuse, and even spiritual oppression. There were definitely bright moments of hope, however, the brightest of which was the birth of my first child.

The first few months after our son was born were happy and I had hoped the addictions and fights were behind us. But, the drug abuse continued and when our baby was seven months old his father left our apartment and I never saw him again. If it wasn't for the joys and struggles of raising my son, I might have forgotten that the marriage had ever happened at all. After all I went on to marry again, have two move children, and live a new life!

A couple of days ago my son, now 23, received a message on his MySpace page that came from his birth father. This, for me, is a reminder that my story was not one I'd read about in a dusty old novel, but rather was one I'd actually lived. It's been 22 1/2 years since the day he walked out of our apartment and I can't possibly know how time has changed the man who was once my husband. I pray for my son's sake that he is a better man since the last thing my son needs now is any kind of negative influence in his life.

So...a new chapter has begun. Stay tuned Danielle Steel fans :)

Monday, January 21, 2008


The other day I did something I love to do more than just about anything else known or unknown to man. I walked on the beach. So fantastic! As I was walking along I noticed all the beautiful, small, shiny rocks scattered along the water's edge and I began picking up the rocks and small shells. I spent some time pondering the stories each of my treasures would tell if they could. Then, it occurred to me that I've spent an awful lot of time during trips and outings throughout my life looking for souvenirs. Why?

Why do we sometimes spend more time searching out just the right souvenir - the one that will remind us of the wonderful time we had on vacation - then we do actually making memories? As I was walking along the shoreline - my eyes directed downward, seeking out shiny rocks and colorful shells - I was missing the beauty of the moment. In my quest to find something to help me remember where I'd been, I missed enjoying where I was.

What drives us to find trinkets to remind us of the past? Are we out to impress others? Are we afraid we'll forget where we've been or what we've done? Do we gather souvenirs for the future to prove we did in fact have a past - that we existed at all. I don't know that I have the answers. I just know that the other day when I was walking on the beach, these were the questions I found myself asking. Hmmmm......

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Foil or Plastic Wrap?

I’ve chosen to live my life somewhat transparently. I could have buried my head deep under a blanket and kept myself safely wrapped in the warmth of my own bed. Okay, I did do that on occasion and you know what I found? I discovered that my bed doesn’t judge me, jump to conclusions about me, make false assumptions about me, or call me names. Yep, staying buried in the safety and warmth of my own bed might have been the better choice. However, I chose to be transparent.

I was hoping (still hope) that my story would give hope to others. “She lived through those things, maybe I can to.” Those are the kinds of things I would hope someone might say about me. However, living somewhat transparently means opening oneself up to the judgments and accusations of those who haven’t walked in your shoes.

A couple of months ago one of the pastors at our church made a brave and truthful statement. He said, “When I was young I was not a very nice person. I made a lot of mistakes. In fact, the only thing that separates me from men in prison is the fact that I was never caught.” Now, that’s transparency for ya. And that statement isn’t just true about him. It’s true about MANY of us! Another pastor in our church has been honest about the fact that his son is serving a seven-year sentence in Federal Prison. That young prison inmate has written a book about his decisions and he tells what it means to be the prodigal son.

When my kids were struggling with drugs I prayed they’d get caught. Why? Well, the alternative to getting caught is most often death. Getting caught might mean having to pay dearly for one’s choices, but at least with getting caught there is still life – and thus there is hope. I have a friend whose son will be sentenced for his crimes next week. Because her son was caught before he died, my friend has had the opportunity to reconnect with him, see him get baptized in jail, and enjoy the fact that her family is once again whole. I have another friend who for several years lived in fear that not just one, but all four of her children could die from their addictions to meth and alcohol. One by one they got caught and one by one – slowly – they are getting well. I work with a woman who would have given anything for her son to get caught. Instead, she went in to wake her sleeping son one morning and she discovered his lifeless 23-year old body in his bed. That mom would most certainly choose having her child get caught and being sent to jail over burying him – if she’d had the choice.

I’ve chosen to live transparently. Let’s imagine that I put two bowls of leftovers in my refrigerator. I cover one bowl with plastic wrap and one with foil. I then leave the bowls of uneaten food for several weeks. The contents of both bowls will eventually become mold-covered science projects before too long, but when I open my refrigerator I won’t have to look at the bowl covered with foil. I choose to use plastic wrap so I can see the problem and get rid of it in a timely manor. That’s what transparency is all about.

I love that pastor friend of mine who told the truth about the fact that he had taken a bumpy road for his path in life. He gets it. Many of the Bible “greats” didn’t start out so great. Hosea’s wife was a prostitute; Jacob was a liar; David had an affair; Paul was a murderer. So was Moses. Miriam was a gossip; Jeremiah was depressed and suicidal; Noah was a drunk; Jesus was poor; John was self-righteous; Lazarus was dead!

You want to judge me? You want to judge my children? Go ahead. You don’t know the whole story. You haven’t walked in our shoes. If our transparency gives one person hope and the strength to face life’s challenges, than it is worth it. Your judgment is just one more challenge, and we’ll face that one too.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Christmas Letter

I thought I'd post a copy of the Christmas letter I sent out to family and friends. And case I hadn't mentioned it enough...I have GREAT kids!! They are brave, beautiful, talented, good, kind people. They have learned lessons the hard way - but they have LEARNED :) How great is that!!'s the letter:

"I can’t believe it’s January 1, 2008! Is it too late to send out Christmas cards? Well…I’m doin’ it ☺

December was a busy month what with Liz appearing in “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” at The Second Space Theatre, and directing the Candlelight program at Northwest Church. Tom was busy wrapping up the year at work, playing drums for Candlelight, and preparing for a few weeks off.

This won’t be the traditional “look at what we’ve accomplished this year” kind of letter. Honestly, aren’t you kind of sick of those? Anybody who knows us knows we’ve faced a few challenges. We were humbled and grateful for the simple pleasure of spending Christmas morning with all three of our children and knowing that right here and right now they are safe and healthy. That in and of itself is a true Christmas miracle!

As we look toward a brand new year I ask that you remember to pray for all the moms whose sons are in prison, for the parents whose children are lost in a world of drugs or alcohol, for the teen runaway and their heartsick family, and for children whose mommies and daddies are separated from them by prison walls – whether real or emotional. Disgrace is what we do to each other, but Grace is God’s gift to every one of us! How cool is that!?

Happy New Year from The Stoeckel Family"

Monday, January 7, 2008

Empty Nest

After Rose's funeral yesterday Tom borrowed a friend's van and we loaded up the last of Giana's belongings and moved everything across town to our daughter's new home. She is SO excited about FINALLY moving out on her own and she is lucky to have friends with whom she can share this new chapter of her life. The house Gia has moved into is very large, in a nice neighborhood, and reasonably priced :)

Of course there is a part of me that says, "Hey, I worked my butt off to save your life and now you're repaying me by moving out?" But, as I told Giana last night, I fought for her so she could be at this place in her life - so she could have the opportunity to grow up, move out on her own, and experience all that life has for her. She said, "That's right! I got to grow up and be awesome. I'm awesome!" Yes, you are awesome, Giana!

Okay, so this is a new chapter for me. All the children are gone. I don't know how to not have kids around. I don't know who I am if I'm not a 24 hour a day mom. I know...I'm still the mom. The house is quiet, the rooms are empty, and I don't know what exactly to do now. I "get" to do things for me now, but what does that look like? I've got no idea.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Good-bye Rose

Rose died today. And so another chapter of life closes and a new one begins. For Rose's wonderful husband and her three beautiful children the rest of their story will be written without Rose by their side. She invested all her heart and soul into Mac, Luke, Chelsea, and Jeremy so I know they'll always have her with them.

Thank you Rose for the encouragement you gave me. I'll never forget those days so long ago - sweating together at the gym, sharing kind words over coffee, singing together in choir, and swapping clothes between our toddlers. You had the most beautiful smile in the whole world!