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!