Saturday, December 26, 2009

You will be visited by three ghosts....

So, just like old Scrooge himself, last night I was visited by three ghosts; "Christmas Past", "Christmas Present", and of course, "Christmas Future". I have a few vivid memories of early Christmases and those memories live quietly tucked away - coming out to play only occasionally. They're special nonetheless. When I was very, very young we still celebrated Christmas with my mom's extended family. Her Aunt Velma and Uncle Dave lived right next door to my grandparents' country home in Dinuba, CA. I remember floral curtains. Or was it a floral couch? It was definitely floral something. Anyway, there were maybe 20 or so family members at those early Christmas gatherings. One year my dad was given a pair of water skis. Even though there was a definite chill in the air, it was never too cold to play with my siblings and cousins outside among the orange trees, peach trees, and farm equipment. One Christmas when I was maybe 7 or 8, we spent a few days of our Christmas vacation in San Francisco with my dad's family. My Grandpa, Aunt Saundra and her family - along with several dogs, all lived in a two story walk-up in the Twin Peaks area of San Francisco. I remember waking up in the middle of the night. The lighted color wheel spun slowly in front of the silver tinsel tree, giving the illusion that the tree was changing colors every couple of seconds. I stood next to the tree and looked out the giant window in the front room. Since the house was high on a hill, I had a great view of what seemed to me to be the entire city of San Francisco - lights as far as I could see. The picture is seared in my mind's eye and the memory always makes me smile. I don't remember what I got for Christmas that year, but I remember my little girl self standing alone in a room watching over a sleeping city.

I remember Christmas, 1981. I had moved to Memphis, Tennessee in November and I didn't know a lot of people. My new boss invited me to spend Christmas Eve with his family. I got to dress up and spend a lovely evening in Germantown, eating a fabulous meal while sitting at a grand dining table in a beautiful home with Cecil Blackwood and his family. Their hospitality will never be forgotten. I have so many amazing Christmas memories from when the kids were little. They would sleep together in one bedroom, giggling and laughing 'till they fell asleep waiting for Santa to come. They woke to find gifts under the tree and a fire crackling in the fireplace. Santa had even filled the stockings :) Tom would always read the story of the first Christmas from the book of Luke, and then the wrappings and ribbons would go flying. The kids are now 21, 22, and 25, and yet - on this Christmas Eve - they all went to sleep in the same room, woke up to find that "Santa" had come in the night, and after reading about Mary, Joseph, and the baby Christ child, the wrappings and ribbons flew off the packages. The responses are a bit more subdued (only a bit), but their gratitude and appreciation is palpable.

One more Christmas past memory - last year was awful! There's no need to rehash, but I was so hurt and felt so betrayed last year. Sadly, when I shared my feelings, family members told me that I was the one who "ruined" Christmas by expressing myself. One family member told me that she would "no longer share" her life with me. My heart has been broken.

My life has been ANYTHING but calm. In fact, it has been downright horrible at times. It seems that every moment of joy is followed by hours of heartache, so I'm a bit superstitious about saying things like, "the future looks bright" out loud. I don't buy the "name it and claim it" life philosophy. I will say, however, that after years and years and years of happy memories peppered with unimaginable sadness, I do feel the anticipation of hope. The Ghost of Christmas Future looks happier and more hopeful than the character Charles Dickens painted.

Yesterday was a fabulous Christmas day! My three babies are adults now. They are people I love and respect. Even better - I LIKE them, and they seem to like me. We are all filled with gratitude and appreciation!

Hope. My word for today - and the days to come - is Hope.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Foggy Delay Couldn't Keep My Away!

I woke up this morning to find my city socked in, trapped under a heavy blanket of Tulle fog. This is typical for this time of year in the San Joaquin Valley here in Central California and the fog is so much a part of winter that it is, in fact, strangely comforting. Visibility is down to zero feet in many outlying areas, so traversing the streets and freeways will be dangerous this morning. The fog has also caused flight delays at Fresno Yosemite International Airport. I'm reminded of a foggy December morning five years ago, and a canceled flight that was to have taken my husband and me to our daughter in Utah.

In October of 2004 a miracle lead me to the streets of Santa Cruz, where I found our 16-year old drug-addicted runaway daughter. Two days later my husband and I wept as we drove down the long driveway away from the rehab facility in Loa, Utah where we left our little girl for much needed treatment. On that foggy morning 2 1/2 months later we had flight reservations for what was to be a surprise visit to our daughter. When we woke up and saw the wall of fog outside our window, we knew we should check on the status of our flight. Sure enough...canceled! We crawled back into bed for about 5 minutes before we looked at each other and said, "let's drive". Ten hours later we drove past that same long driveway and I was shocked at the sudden urge to leap out of the car and run to wake my daughter. I cried a little, checked into our cozy hotel - happy to be out of the Utah cold night air - and then we set the alarm for an early wake-up call. It was still dark outside when we were allowed into our daughter's room, where she lay sleeping in a bed surrounded by other young girls whose parents were desperate enough to seek help in this far away place. "I'm here", I whispered. She woke up, her eyes widened, and she said, "Can we go out for breakfast?"

Christmas 2004 was hard. Our daughter was in rehab, our oldest son was in jail, and I was barely able to summon the energy to hold it together long enough to get through Christmas. The only thing that kept me going that gloomy season was my 17 year-old son, who was still at home and needing us and much as we needed him. The memory of that happy moment, in the early morning darkness in a girl's dorm room in Loa, Utah, was a bright light that shined like a beacon of hope. This morning, when I woke to the wall of fog outside my window, I remembered that morning five years ago, when our flight was canceled and how we weren't sure we'd make it to the pre-Christmas visit with our lost daughter. Then, I was reminded that even when blanketed by sadness and grief, there is light and hope. So the flight's been canceled and you're not sure how you'll get from here to there? Find another way! Find another way....

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Happy Birthday Dallas!

My oldest child turned 25 yesterday. Incredible. Every anniversary is an opportunity to look back over all that has been survived and accomplished, and to look forward with hope and optimism to what lies ahead. I am especially grateful to be here in this place - sharing the day with my 25 year-old son. Five years ago I wasn't so sure Dallas would live to see his quarter century birthday.

2004 was a particularly awful year for our family. Our 16 year-old daughter had been lost to us - stolen by a wicked addiction to methamphetamine. A miracle led me to find her living among the homeless 200 miles from home, and in October of that year we sent her to a rehabilitation program in Utah. Dallas was also battling a meth addiction and he too had been living on the streets. Since he was over 18, there was little I could do to save his life and my heart was crazy heavy. On December 9, 2004, the day after Dallas's 20th birthday, several family members had gathered at my home to celebrate the milestone, and to welcome the prodigal child home. Just as we were about to eat, there was a knock at the door. The plain-clothes officer asked for my son, and within seconds he was sitting - handcuffed - in the back of the police cruiser. I'll never forget the agony of that moment. After the car pulled away, I walked back into the house where sadness and silence filled the room like a mudslide. It was terrible. 24 hours later I was sitting in a cold reception room at the Fresno County Jail, talking with my son on the other side of the acrylic window through a dirty phone handset.

Today we celebrate not a destination, but a journey. The road so far has at times been bumpy and scary, but we are on the road together. Exactly two months from today - on February 9, 2010, Dallas will be off parole. It will be the end of one chapter, and the beginning a bright future. Today I celebrate my child. Happy birthday Dallas! I love you.

Friday, December 4, 2009


a poem by elizabeth stoeckel

Before it slips away,
carried by the tides of time too far from shore;
I’ll write it.
Before my heart forgets the quiet yearnings,
before the gentle whispers are hushed by the beatings of life;
I’ll say it.
Before my body can no longer feel your arms around me,
your breath in my hair;
I’ll shout it.

I loved you!
I love you still!

Elizabeth Stoeckel
May 10, 2001

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Magnetic Pull of DNA

What is family? Well, I'm not the first person to ask that question, and it will certainly be asked millions more times by far more intelligent people than I. We are born into a family not of our choosing. Most of us have totally lucked out and we feel blessed to have the family we have. But for some, a birth certificate seems to almost double as a license to inflict pain. The newspapers and court dockets are weighed down with case studies of family grief. I love my church family and my work family, and I'm lucky to have been adopted by this eclectic and quirky mix of human beings. But there is something about sharing DNA that inexplicably, but most assuredly, connects people physically and emotionally.

There's a new television show on ABC called, "Find My Family". While I've not yet watched an episode, I glean from the commercials and press releases that the show reunites adopted children with their birth parents. Why do adopted children seek out their bio-parents? I submit to you that it is because of that strange and almost magnetic pull of DNA.

Fifteen years ago I learned I had a little sister who had been given up for adoption. My dad was the bio-dad of this little girl and just before her 10th birthday, she began asking questions about her family. Dad called me, told me about Megan, and showed me the photos the adoption agency had sent to him over the years. The moment I saw the image of that beautiful little girl, I knew I was connected to her and I loved her immediately! Her parents welcomed us into their home and they let their daughter be a part of our family. What a gift it has been to watch my baby sister grow from stranger, to sister, to young adult, to friend.

I was married for a short two and half tumultuous years a long time ago (well...25 years ago). If not for my son - who is the blessing of that marriage - I might have successfully tucked the memories of that union away with the cobwebs in my moldy brain. But, my husband and I have raised a son who looks an awful lot like his bio-dad, so it's not possible to pretend it didn't happen. When the marriage ended, I sadly lost contact with half of my ex-husband's family. I don't know why, but it is what it is. son always had a "hole", for lack of another word, that could only be filled by information - even though he'd been adopted by my husband and only knew HIM as "Dad". I can't speak for my son so I won't, but I do know that the old DNA magnetic pull thing sort of tugged on him. It's been almost two years now since my ex - totally out of blue - contacted my son through MySpace. Just "knowing" has filled the hole for my son.

In a couple of days my son will meet his grandmother for the first time. Well, there was that time when he was 6 months old, but I'm pretty sure he doesn't remember that. The door was always open, but life sometimes moves people away from open doors. Such is the case with Grandma. Even though this woman is no longer my mother-in-law, she IS my son's grandmother, and as such, she is family! I can't wait to see her again and to watch her look into the eyes of her one and only grandson - now a grown man. I know she'll see her son's blue eyes, his walk, and the cleft in his chin. How great is that!!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

"The House Of Me"

The House of Me
by Elizabeth Stoeckel

I pass by it at the end of the hall twenty times a day,
but today I stopped – really stopped to entertain the image in the full-length mirror.
Today I went to visit the house of me and I met strangers.
I didn’t remember the deep cracks and saggy walls
and I was sure they had not been there long.
They had responded to the invitation to submit,
Invitations sent by gravity and time.

The ravages of outside elements had left the hinges rusted
and the door impenetrable.
The windows in the no longer familiar house were shrouded with thick
dust covered webs of disappointment, loneliness, anxiety and fear.
The house I saw in the only slightly familiar reflection
was no longer a home for faith and wonder,
but a haven for the tired and weary.

You must excuse me now for a while as I tend to some much needed repairs.
While my time spent in the homes and gardens of those I love
was most precious,
I must now turn my focus to the place that is my soul and my home.
The door to my heart has been loosed with the oil of forgiveness,
The webs will be cleared with the life breath of peace,
and the light of hope will once again brighten the darkest hiding places
known only by me.
I hope you’ll be a frequent visitor to the house, the home that is me.

August 23, 2000