Thursday, December 30, 2010

I Choose Wholeness


One of my Facebook friends posted the following status recently: Psychologists say we judge and condemn others according to our own weaknesses. We project our weaknesses onto them.

I thought about responding with a snide comment. For you see, this is the woman who—along with her husband—convinced a pastor that I was manipulative and controlling and therefore should be replaced. They made their case by accusing me of saying things I hadn’t said.

We don’t have to look far to know that the psychologists are right. We see pastors rail against homosexuals, only to be exposed as a closeted gay. Politicians fight prostitution, only to be outed as regular consumers of the working girls.

Girls are great at making mean and ugly accusations against one another. My husband often says, “Boys are dumb, girls are mean.” True. We’re jealous, self-conscious, insecure, and snide. Although I believe that’s what we are deep down inside, we have the power to be our best selves, not our weakest selves.

A few women in my life have been a bit grumpy about the fact that I’ve pulled away from them. Instead of asking why I’ve made that choice, they’ve done just what the psychologists have suggested they would do—they’ve assumed things about me. These assumptions might just say more about who they are, than who I am.

To the family member who told me I don’t “accept people for who they are”—I wish you could accept me as I am. To the cousin who believes I was “in the belly of the whale”—you were wrong. Your words did, however, reveal SOME truth. I wish you’d listen to what I’ve learned (and it’s not what you think). To the woman who accused me of being jealous of her, the woman who told me God shut the door of opportunity to do the right thing, the lady who told me I’m unforgiving, and the mom who accused my kids of doing something they didn’t do; I wish I could help you understand. I’m sorry you chose to bulldoze over our friendship.

I choose to be positive. I choose to be around women who seek to close wounds rather than rip them open over and over again. I choose to walk away from the accuser, and into the arms of the healer.

I choose to make 2011 the year of wholeness.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Labels


A few days ago a friend posted the following as his status update on Facebook; “People’s performance usually reflects the expectations of those they respect. – John Maxwell”

That quote stuck with me and got me to thinking about all the labels we put on people. I’m certainly guilty of labeling people, which is shameful since I know how it feels to be unfairly classified. Unless it details a calorie and ingredient breakdown, a label is rarely a good thing.

Then at church on Sunday Dale taught about the danger of labeling people. So, I thought I’d blog some of my thoughts on the topic.

One Sunday morning when Dallas was about four years old I went to pick him up from his class at church and the teacher met me at the door. “Dallas was very bad today.” She looked down at my son who was now standing at her side. “Tell your mommy how bad you were today.”

I wanted to punch that woman! You can tell me he misbehaved, you can tell me he was a bigger challenge than he normally was, but do NOT call my child “bad”. From that moment on, Dallas was “that kid” at church. You know the one—the child that all the Sunday school teachers warn the other leaders about. “Oh, Dallas is going to be in your class next year—he’s a handful.” My son was labeled.

The truth was, Dallas loved his teachers at church and he wanted to please them. Their expectations, however, were low. My son respected these people and his performance reflected their expectations.

Several years ago I sat across a tiny table at a Starbucks from a woman I loved and respected very much. I’d requested the meeting with Rhonda as our relationship was broken and I desired healing and wholeness. For the better part of an hour she spewed her accusations and venom at me. “You’re weak. You’re jealous. You’re not that good a friend.” Her reasons were flimsy at best, but the bottom line was – she’d labeled me and she refused to see me as anything other than the person she decided I was.

During Dale’s message on Sunday he held up signs with words written in big black letters—labels we put on people. Democrat. Liberal. Republican. Pro-choice. Pro-life. Homosexual. We practically stamp words on the forehead of people the very moment we meet them. Let’s try something new; let’s see people as God sees them—a target of HIS love and HIS grace.

Back at that Starbucks after Rhonda stamped me with all her labels I said, “If you saw me in that way, why didn’t you say something? I mean, I was your friend.” That’s when she said, “You were never that good a friend.” I replied, “I’m more—I’m a part of the family of God.” She said, “You just want to play the victim, and I won’t yield to your victim mentality.”

Isn’t it interesting how some Christians pick and choose what part of the scriptures they want to embrace? To their way of thinking it’s okay to use the Bible as a sword to stab and condemn others. But if you’re a Christian, you should also be willing to use the scriptures to sharpen you.

Desiring to be seen as a child of God does NOT make me a victim wannabe! I allowed myself to be influenced by the labels put on me by others. I did that because I loved and respected them and I trusted their friendship. I wrote this last week, and I’ll say it again, shame on me!

I AM a child of God and a target of His grace. THAT is the label I deserve. And by the way, that's the label my son deserves!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

My "Dangerous Path"

For today's Wild Ride Wednesday, I want to remind myself, and you, that it's okay to ask "why?"

“Randall used to say when you turn 50 you’re closer to the final curtain than the overture. But I think there’s still time to learn whatever it is I’m supposed to learn.” - Dinah Grayson, The Dixie Swim Club

Dinah Grayson is the character I’m playing in the upcoming Second Space production, The Dixie Swim Club. I myself am closer to 50 than to 40, and like Dinah, I believe there’s still time for me to learn. But first, I need to learn to BELIEVE the things I’ve already LEARNED! Why is that so hard to do?

It’s been several years now since a pastor told me I was on a “dangerous path”. One day Pastor H’s assistant, Pastor B, called me at home. He said, “Liz, you’re on a dangerous path, and I believe if you don’t get off you’ll end up in a bad place.” He and his wife were very dear friends and I had no reason to doubt he had my best interest at heart.

And what was this “dangerous path” I was on? Was I breaking a commandment—stealing, cheating, or lying? Nope, I had done something worse; I dared to ask “why?”

Pastor B told me (effectively) that I should never question pastors, as God Himself put the spiritual leaders in authority over me. Um…isn’t that exactly how priests justified abusing and taking advantage of kids?

You see, Pastor H fired me and then refused to tell me why. He removed me from the ministry I helped start and wouldn’t tell me what led to that decision. He kept saying, “I’m in charge, and you can’t put me in a box.” I’d poured my heart, talent, and time into building the ministry, and now I was arbitrarily being removed. Adding insult to injury, I was being reprimanded for asking “why?”

Pastor B gave three examples of my disrespect for Godly authority. He credited me with saying something about a pastor that another member of my family had said. In fact, I reminded him, I had DEFENDED the pastor. “Oh yeah”, he said. “Well…” he went on. “You challenged the children’s pastor after he chastised Drew.”

What? How did he know that? Yes, Tom and I were very disturbed about an encounter between the children’s pastor and our second son Drew. We confronted the leader, but never ever spoke to anyone else about it. Two weeks after the incident, the pastor took time out of his family vacation to call us—he was crying. He told me he’d been going through a tough time and he took it out on our son. He asked Tom and I to forgive him—which we did—and the incident was over. Apparently, however, he had asked for Pastor B’s advice before he called us, but never told him about his contrite phone call. Now the encounter was being used against me! Unbelievable.

The third “proof” of my dangerous-path-traveling was my daring to question my firing. I was just supposed to be quiet and accept Pastor H’s decision regardless of how my life was being affected.

It would be many weeks before Tom and I were finally allowed to sit with Pastor H to hear him explain his decision. He accused me of saying things I didn’t say and thinking things I never thought. When I stood up for myself, he called me a liar.

It is ALWAYS okay to ask “why?” I learned that truth when I was a child, and I gave permission to my own kids to do the same. But I’m not sure I really believed it until now that I’m almost 50. It’s my life and it’s okay to ask why!

You are allowed, by the way, to answer a “why” question with, “because I said so”, or “because I’m in charge”. That answer might not sit well with me, but you have the right to say anything you want.

Accusing me of saying something I never said is not cool. I have no idea what motivated Pastor H and Pastor B to do what they did. What I DO know, is that I spent way too many years doubting myself and believing their lies about me. Shame on me!

I bought a license plate frame that says, “I’ve got an opinion, and I’m not afraid to use it.” I am a smart, talented, and good person. I’ve worked hard to build a reputation as a hard working, respectful person, and I have an opinion. I never asked anyone to agree with me.

When the decisions and choices of other people affect my life, I have the right to ask “why”. So do you! Lesson learned.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

For this Wild Ride Wednesday—the day before Thanksgiving—I thought I’d share some of my best Thanksgiving memories.

I remember many Thanksgivings at my grandparent’s home in the middle of a cotton field (and later a peach orchard) on Road 56 in Dinuba, California. They lived in the same small clapboard house their whole married life, and both my mother and her older brother were born in that house. My uncle was literally born in the house, but my mom was born in the tiny local hospital. Her first bed was a dresser drawer.

My grandma always made chocolate pie. My siblings, my cousins, and I liked to eat the cream filling first, and then we would nibble the yummy handmade crust. We ate the pomegranates we pulled from the tree at the end of the long dirt driveway. We cracked walnuts my grandpa picked from the giant tree in the front yard.

I distinctly remember Thanksgiving Day, 1972. I played happily in the cotton bin parked in the front yard, but my siblings and I had a secret that Thanksgiving. In the privacy of our own little cotton hideaway, we told our cousins that although we were all there together, our mom and dad were officially separated. That would be the last Thanksgiving we spent as an intact family.

Nine years later I packed everything I owned in my little 1973 Mazda Wagon, left home, and drove east. I landed in Memphis early in November, just a few weeks before “turkey day”. I got a job almost immediately, and I even found a place to live—an apartment I shared with a crazy girl who also happened to be named Liz.

On Thanksgiving Day, 1981 I sat on the floor of my small living room where I watched the Macy’s parade on television, and dined on chili beans that I ate right out of the pan. The next day someone I worked with brought me a turkey sandwich! I can still taste the yummy white bread and the smooth, thick mayo. Mmmmmm.

In 1984 my husband and I happily posed for pictures—his hand resting on my very pregnant belly. My family had no idea I’d been living in a house of horrors for much of the past two years. My abusive marriage to a cocaine addict would end eight months later, leaving my baby son and me alone.

On Thanksgiving night 1985, Tom would ask me to marry him. Oh what a difference a year makes. Tomorrow will be the 25th anniversary of that proposal.

My favorite holiday memory is—and I believe always will be—Thanksgiving 2004. Giana had been in a Utah rehab for six weeks. I made a chocolate cream pie and carefully packed it on ice for the 15-hour trip to Loa. Tom, Drew, and I laughed and talked all the way to the sleepy little town.

It was dark and cold when we pulled up to our hotel. We were exhausted and we slept well that night. Early the next morning we drove the winding 4 miles to Aspen Ranch and were directed to our daughter’s cabin. I will never forget seeing her run out of her cabin and into Drew’s arms. It was clear our little girl was on the road to recovery and was already so much healthier than she’d been in years. I wrote more about that day here.

I know what it means to be truly thankful. Loss is hard and terrible, but without it I wouldn’t fully understand how very blessed I am.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Gateway Drugs-Are We Giving Kids The Keys?

I submit to you that a) marijuana is a gateway drug, and b) statement “a” is true because WE have given our kids the keys to the gate. I hope I have your attention.

The Drug Enforcement Agency, or DEA, is the Federal Government agency responsible for enforcing laws and regulations governing narcotics and controlled substances. The DEA has divided drugs into five “schedules”.

Schedule 5 drugs have been found to have a low potential for abuse; they may lead to very limited physical and/or psychological dependence, and currently have an accepted medical use. Schedule 4 drugs are the same as 5, but users may be slightly more apt to fall into a dependence on these drugs. Those drugs found in Schedule 3 are more dangerous, Schedule 2 drugs are worse still, and Schedule 1 drugs are considered the most hazardous.

My kids all went through the Drug Abuse Resistance Education or DARE program in their schools when they were in the sixth grade. There’s no doubt the program has the best of intentions. It sends police officers into classrooms to educate kids about the dangers of drugs and the challenges and trauma they will face if they go down the drug path.

According to the DEA marijuana is a Schedule 1 drug. That means, it is as threatening a toxin as heroin, Ecstasy, LSD, and methamphetamines (cocaine is a Schedule 2 drug).

It should be noted that according to the Schaffer Library of Drug Policies (and many other sources), there has never been a reported case of anyone dying from a marijuana overdose. It should also be noted that there are over 5,000 cases of alcohol related deaths every year in America.

Understand me here; I am NOT advocating the use of marijuana! I do believe, however, that IF marijuana is a gateway drug to the hard stuff, WE are responsible for making it so.

Pot is easy to get, fairly inexpensive, and widely used by kids who are interested in experimenting with illegal drugs. I was not one of those kids. I never had a desire to get high or drunk when I was a teen-ager, but I was around pot a few times and I knew kids who smoked regularly. Kids today are no different.

So, here they are, smoking a bud for the first time. They laugh a little, they eat a lot, and they fall asleep. They think, “Well, that wasn’t so bad”. But wait, these kids learned back in the 6th grade that marijuana was just as bad, dangerous, and evil as heroin and Meth.

It is easy to understand why they aren’t afraid of trying the hard stuff—opening the gate and walking down the drug path.

The brain and body do not become addicted to pot. This is not true, however, of Meth. Meth users become addicted the first time they use this insidious drug and they will spend all their money, time, and energy chasing the thrill of that first high. The chase often ends with the user dead or in prison. The same is true of users of heroin, cocaine, Ecstasy, etc…

We MUST tell kids the truth. There are many good and logical reasons to not smoke pot—it costs money, and a case of “the munchies” contributes to unwanted weight gain. In addition, smoking causes the heart rate to increase, and the blood pressure to decrease. Researchers found that users' risk for a heart attack is four times higher within the first hour after smoking marijuana, compared to their general risk of heart attack when not smoking.

All in all, the risks associated with using marijuana are far smaller that those attributed to other Schedule 1 drugs. We’ve GOT to tell kids the truth. We are losing too many to drugs.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Ma'am, Are You Okay?

Today’s Wild Ride Wednesday installment (like last week) goes back 25 years. When I look back over my life, I see a string of miracles. God has protected me from some crazy stuff, and I am grateful.

It was late May or early June 1985. Dallas was nearly 6 months old and was the light of my life. I was blessed to have a job that allowed me to bring my baby to the office for a few hours every afternoon. My sister, Tina watched him every morning before she went to work at The Peppermill where she was a waitress.

I woke up around 6am on that late spring morning. It was hot—the first really hot day of what would surely be another sweltering summer in Fresno, California.

As was often the case, my ex-husband had not come home the night before. He’d held ten or twelve jobs in the 2-½ years since our Memphis wedding, but had never worked longer than three months at any place.

During this period of unemployment the father of my child was “waiting for God” to direct his path. He wouldn’t even go to the grocery store with me unless God “released” him to do so.

Dallas woke up smiling and laughing—just as he did every single morning. He was an incredibly happy baby. After I showered and dressed for work, I put my young son in the highchair so I could feed him breakfast. As I spooned the mashed bananas out of the bowl and into Dallas’s eager mouth, his daddy finally walked in the front door.

I don’t remember how the innocuous conversation started, but I remember that it soon escalated and became volatile. I couldn’t say anything right.

My ex-husband began tapping me—just thumping my head with a steady rhythmic beat. “Please don’t do that.” I tried to keep my voice calm. The man just laughed.

The man I’d once promised to love, honor, and cherish balled up his right hand into a fist and with his knuckles he began knocking on the top of my head, as if he was knocking on a door.

I appealed to his good sense. “Aren’t you tired? Maybe you should go get some rest. I have to get to work. Dallas and I will be out of your hair in just a few minutes.”

He knocked harder. I started to cry.

“Look at your mommy, Dallas. Look at her cry.” His voice was cool and steady, devoid of feeling.

He went on, “Look at your mommy cry. Dallas, you’re mommy is crazy. She’s insane. I’m sorry you have a crazy mommy.”

I stopped feeding my son and began to unbuckle the lap strap that secured him to the highchair.

“I’m going to work”, I said.

“You’re not taking Dallas today. He’s going to spend the day with me.”

Over my dead body!

I went back to the bedroom and called my sister. “[My husband] won’t let me leave the apartment without Dallas. I don’t know what to do.”

Within fifteen minutes there was a knock on my door. I looked out the front window and saw a police officer. I told my husband that my sister had called the police and I was letting them in.

He walked back to the bedroom and shut the door. I opened my front door and two uniformed officers from the Fresno Police Department stepped inside.

“Ma’am, are you okay?”

My sister came running up the stairs. She’d left her apartment as soon as she’d called the police. I was relieved to see her.

The police told me I would not be allowed to remove anything from the apartment. They would escort me down to my car, but if my husband came out of the bedroom and asked me to leave my child, they could NOT let me take my son to safety.

I walked down the hall and opened the bedroom door. My husband was lying on the bed. “Dallas and I are leaving.” No response.

We spent the day at my sister’s apartment, but when night came I had to go home. It would be a month and half before the nightmare ended, but that was the day my ex-husband learned that I wasn’t alone—my family would not let him hurt me anymore.

I’m happy to say that laws have changed. If this experience happened today, I don’t think the police would force a frightened young mom to leave her child behind with her abuser.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Please Don't Let My Baby Die

Today’s Wild Ride Wednesday goes back to early July of 1984. I was married to my ex-husband.

It was 3am and I was lying in bed—alone, pregnant, and awake. This was nothing like I thought married life would be.

I’d only been married eighteen months. Shouldn’t we still be in the “newlywed” phase? The sad truth was, my new husband and I had spent more nights apart then together. He was addicted to cocaine, and chasing the high took priority over me.

I remember how shocked I’d been to discover we were going to have a baby. I mean, I know how it happened, but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out when it happened. We were very seldom together. On that hot July night I was sixteen weeks pregnant.

This was in the days before everyone had a cell phone. I lay awake thinking the same thoughts that had rattled around inside my head the night before, and the night before that, and for most of the nights since our wedding. Was my husband alive? Was he in jail? Was he with another woman?

I got up to use the restroom. Panic washed over me. I was bleeding.

My pregnancy was completely unplanned, but I’d heard the heartbeat, and I loved and wanted this baby very much. I started to tremble—only a tiny bit at first. My eyes welled with tears and I soon found myself rocking and sobbing on the bathroom floor. Oh God, please don’t let my baby die.

A few weeks earlier I’d done something I never thought I’d want or need to do—I went through my husband’s wallet when he was in the shower. I scribbled down the woman’s phone number I’d found written on a scrap of paper buried deep in the leather wallet.

I picked myself up off the bathroom floor and stumbled to the phone. I dialed the number. “Hello?” The woman’s voice was soft and confused.

“My name is Liz.” What was I doing? Was I crazy for calling this woman? It was the middle of night, for heaven’s sake. “I need to talk to my husband. Is he there?”

I heard her whisper. “It’s your wife.”

An hour or so later my husband walked in the door. He was so angry. I explained to him that I was bleeding and I was scared. I needed the father of my child to be home with me.

“You know we don’t want this baby. Loosing it would be the best thing that could happen to us.” He turned to me and put his finger in my face. “How dare you go through my personal belongings and check up on me. I’m going to bed. Leave me alone.”

He walked into the bedroom and slammed the door.

I took a shower, sat on the couch, and waited for the sun to come up. At 9:00am I called my doctor.

My husband moved out the next day and we spent the rest of my pregnancy living apart. The ultrasound would show that Dallas was alive and well—growing, moving, and kicking inside me.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

I'm no Pollyanna


Confession—I am so NOT a Pollyanna. Shocked? Not if you know me.

Pollyanna is the title character from a book written by Eleanor H. Porter in 1913. The girl with the sunny disposition went through life playing “The Glad Game”. She looked for the positive in every single situation.

The Glad Game was created by her dad one Christmas when her poor family received gifts from the mission. The little girl was hoping for a doll, but found only a pair of crutches inside the gift box. Her daddy taught her to look at the good side of things—in this case, to be glad about the crutches because she “didn’t need ‘em!”

The word Pollyanna is now a part of our English vernacular. We use it to describe a person who sees the good in everything. The word is sometimes used as a derogatory slam to describe someone who is so sickeningly positive that they seem completely out of touch with reality.

I consider myself a realist. Look, I would rather see the bad and deal with it, than wear blinders that keep me from seeing the whole picture. I believe in facing challenges and negativity head-on. Subtle flaws and imperfections add unique depth to works of art.

Some time ago I met a young man who had just moved to Fresno from Phoenix, Arizona. He didn’t know much about our fair city, but he’d been offered a teaching job at Fresno City College, so he came. What little he did know about us was negative.

I Googled the phrase “Fresno voted worst place” and came up with 91,400 hits. I then tried the phrase, “Fresno voted best place” and the search engine gave me just 13,700 findings.

Well, no wonder the teacher had heard far more bad press about Fresno—there’s so much more bad than good out there!

The new resident was expecting to drive up Highway 99 and see a hot barren stretch of desert nothingness. Instead, kind people and trees—lots and lots of trees, greeted him.

I read a couple of the Fres-“NO” articles found by Google and one writer said Fresno needed more trees. The college instructor, however, said he was amazed and enchanted by our abundance of trees. In fact, he offered, the local chamber of commerce ought to use our ample wooded goodness as a selling point in the come-to-Fresno brochures.

There is much wrong with our city—drugs, homelessness, low-scoring students, joblessness, and poverty. It used to be that the Appalachian Mountains were home to our country’s poorest people. Fresno County now boasts that dubious distinction.

But there is so much to celebrate about our Central California home. If you live in the Fresno/Clovis area, you are less than an hour away from some of the most beautiful and scenic mountains in the world. The Sierra/Nevada mountain range is the gorgeous home to many of the oldest and tallest trees in the world—the mighty Sequoias. We’re less than three hours from the fabulous Pacific Ocean. We easily take day trips to Yosemite, San Francisco, or Hollywood.

We are home to a myriad of artists and their incredible work. We boast fine theatre, exquisite dining, fabulous music, quirky art communities, and the best-in-the-world agriculture. Nothing beats our homegrown peaches, nectarines, and watermelon on a warm summer day. If you love rodeo—we’ve got it. You like water parks? We’ve got two! You’ve never seen an underground garden? Plan a visit to the world-famous Forestier Gardens.

I’m no Pollyanna. I see all that’s wrong with this city—just like I see all that’s not right in my life and in my family. It’s the good AND the bad that creates the depth of beauty that is my world. I won’t ignore the negative; rather I will do that which is in my power to make it better.

I’ve walked in the desert, and I found respite under the trees. I feel the hurt, and I appreciate the joy. I grieve for the sick and addicted, and I rejoice with the free. I see the good, the bad, the ugly, the fabulous, the weak, and the strong.

Okay, so I’m not a Pollyanna. But if no one sees that which is wrong, who will rise up to say “I can help”?




Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Unexpected Heroes

For this Wild Ride Wednesday I want to say Thank You to all the people I never expected I’d meet, but without whom my family might not be whole. You are heroes.

I so appreciate the Clovis Police officer who took the first missing child report. Tom and I never, ever believed we would be the parents of a teen-age runaway daughter and we were scared and confused.

As soon as the officer left our home—a tiny picture of Gia tucked in the pocket of his beautifully pressed shirt—I got in my car and drove around town. I didn’t have a specific destination in mind. I was just hoping to catch a glimpse of my little girl.

About three hours later I turned left onto our little street having had no luck in finding my daughter. Sitting in his black and white car at the end of the block was the police officer. He was keeping watch—hoping with us that Gia would come home.

There are so many kind and caring people in the world, and many of them are strangers who will love you the moment they meet you.

I’m so grateful for the sweet woman who answered the phone at the Aspen Ranch rehabilitation facility. While her name escapes me now, I remember her calm and welcoming voice.

Thank you Paul for being a fabulous therapist. You are funny, tender, kind, tough, and honest. I appreciate an unflinching drug counselor named Phillip. These men walk and talk integrity and they inspire their students to rise to meet their full potential.

I’m especially grateful for a fabulous parole officer named Andrew. He showed our son and our whole family enormous respect. He had just the right combination of tough authority and gentle patience. I appreciate the deputy who greets the visitors at the Fresno County Jail.

Thank you to all the 7-11 stores and mini-marts who let us put up pictures of our missing child. Every time I see a poster hanging in one of your windows I stop and pray for the child and their family. You are doing a great service.

I love the drug addicts and homeless who take care of one another. There really is a code of honor among thieves. Without their weird brand of principles, my kids might not be alive.

I owe an extra debt of gratitude to the moms of prodigals I would not have met if not for the path my life has taken. Renee, Liz, Linda, Susan, and Ralaine—you have enriched my life, made my burden lighter, and helped me keep the faith through the ups and downs. I appreciate you girls so much.

I also want to thank a youth pastor named John who encouraged my daughter and helped her find her wings. The fact that she flies today is due in great part to your love and support.

Don’t ever be afraid of the unforeseen and unexpected path on which you might find yourself. You will meet people along the way who want to help you—who want to love you.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Do I Belong?

Belonging. Of all the needs shared by mankind, I believe the need to belong is one of the strongest.

This powerful essential is the foundation on which gangs are formed, friendships are forged, families are created, churches are built, and towns and cities are incorporated. We all desire the security that comes from knowing we are part of a greater whole.

There really is strength in numbers. The opposite is also true—we are weakest when we are alone.

Dale preached a powerful sermon a week or so ago. He pointed out that most churches teach principles for right behavior. Right behavior is a good thing, but it is often taught in the form of a mathematical equation—behavior + believe = belong. If you behave in an acceptable manner and believe as we believe, you get to belong.

Jesus, however, teaches exactly the opposite—Belong + Believe = Behavior. In other words He wants me to know first and foremost that I belong. He hopes that as I spend time with Him I’ll come to believe and then my behavior will reflect my beliefs.

We definitely see this truth played out again and again on the evening news as it relates to gangs and gang activity. Kids find a place where they belong, they get acquainted and indoctrinated into a certain way of acting and thinking, and finally their behavior reflects what they know.

I definitely grew up in an environment where behavior came before belonging. I was raised in a church whose practices were extremely legalistic. We worshipped on a certain day, ate certain foods, and didn’t wear jewelry. There were a lot of “don’ts”. Don’t go to the movies, don’t dance, don’t eat shellfish, and don’t go out on Friday night dates…just to name a few.

One day I got a letter from the church elders. I was no longer considered a member because they’d “been told” that I attended another church. My behavior meant I no longer belonged.

I was hurt.

You know, the unfortunate thing about behavior-based belonging is that you really do feel that you unconditionally belong, until you don’t. I mean, I knew what the church taught, but I had no idea that attending another Christian church was on the “don’t” list.

I was the oldest of four kids (a little sister came along MUCH later), and I was always confident of my place in my family. We first-borns are given very defined roles and the expectations placed on us are often crazy high. In the past several years I discovered that I was no longer able to successfully live up to all the familial expectation. I found that I was no longer able and available to be the mom-of-kids-in-crisis/wife/employee AND a sister/daughter/hostess.

My family did not react positively to my inability to do all that was expected of me. I discovered then that my belonging was in serious jeopardy because my behavior had changed. Performance-based relationships seldom survive the long haul.

Despite my intense desire to never, ever attend a church that put legalistic rules ahead of grace, I ended up in just such a church for many years. Dysfunction can be comforting when it’s all you know. I really did feel I belonged. I know I believed, and my behavior reflected my heart. My behavior, however, was deemed less than perfect and I was booted from my church family.

I’ve written about some of the “sins” I committed while attending that church (working in the theatre is the most egregious), but being accused of saying and thinking things I never said or thought was the most personally offensive and heartbreaking.

I really hope and pray that each one of you belong. I hope you unconditionally belong to a family, a group of friends, a church body, an employment community, or a neighborhood.

Do I belong?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

No Excuses!

I’ve been asked why. Why would I share some of the painful details of my life and the church’s role in both the good and the bad? Well, allow me to answer that here and now.

Church is, and always has been, a huge part of our life. Of the many and varied paths our road has taken we have seen the worst and the best in human nature. We’ve met people from all walks of life—some have been helpful and kind, others were selfish and cruel.

I would love to say that every good person we’ve had the pleasure of knowing is a God-fearing, Jesus-with-skin-on kind of Christian. And, I’m sure some of you would feel better if you knew that all the “bad” people in the world are not Christ followers.

But, as a pastor friend of mine likes to say, “people are no damn good”.

This is what I want all of you to know—I have never, ever allowed the bad behavior of a few to influence my love for God or my understanding of who God is. Tom and I have always trusted God to work in and through our circumstances. As I’ve said again and again, we’ve had a front row seat to some serious miracles!

I hear people tell me all the time that they don’t want anything to do with a God whose kids are so mean to one another. But I know that people are human beings who make stupid and careless mistakes all the time. I wish we were perfect, but on this side of heaven perfection will forever elude us.

A few weeks ago I sat in a church service where the pastor asked the congregation to tell him who Jesus is. People said words like, “kind”, “miracle worker”, “unconditional love”, “grace”, “forgiveness”, and many more. The pastor then removed his jacket and revealed a t-shirt with the word CHRISTIAN on it.

What, he inquired of the congregation, do you think of when you see this word?

It took a few minutes for people to begin, and they started quietly, but soon the words came. “Hypocrite”, “judgmental”, “haters”, etc… The number one adjective used by unbelievers to describe Christians is “hypocrite”. There’s a disconnect between who Jesus is and who we are.

We’re all hypocrites—every human one of us! We all say we stand for things, but when push comes to shove, we fold under the pressure. We say we don’t lie, but we tell our boss we’re sick on a day we want to go to the beach. We say we don’t steal, but we use the copy machine at work to make those posters for the weekend garage sale. We gossip, we judge, we covet, and we keep angry accounts.

While I've come through the fire with my faith in God still intact, I sometimes find it difficult to have faith in the people who make up the body of the church.

I struggle because we’re so busy checkin’ out the speck in one another’s eye, that we neglect the tree trunk protruding from the middle of our own head. We do this. I do this. Come on people, let’s acknowledge this truth and hold one another accountable with love and gentleness. That’s what we’re supposed to do. If you don’t know how to do this, please read Matthew, chapter 18.

There are days when I can’t stand the thought of ever walking into a church again. But then I remember the words of the author of the book of Hebrews, Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:25

Did you catch the word in the middle of that passage? Look again. Encourage. We are to encourage one another.

You wanna know why people aren’t coming to church, why they aren’t being drawn to Jesus? We fail to encourage one another—not always, but too often. In addition, we are called upon to sharpen one another, to hold the pew sitter next to us accountable, to love, to carry, and to grow each other up in the light of Christ’s teaching. We are supposed to meet the needs of the hurting and hungry. We are SUPPOSED to be Jesus with skin on!

I have NEVER, nor will I EVER use the bad behavior of a few as an excuse to not serve God. I’ve made mistakes, errors in judgment, and I’ve flat out sinned. I don’t excuse my behavior and I don’t blame anyone else for my choices.

Further, I know you’ve sinned. How do I know this? It’s the human condition. I don't know what, when, or how, and I don't want to know. But guess what? I love you. If I don’t show it, call me on it. I’m not asking the church to water down The Gospel or to compromise Truth. I’m asking God’s kids to seek first to understand, then to be understood. I’m asking the church to love.

The other day I wrote about an article I came across in the January, 1962 edition of LOOK Magazine. Several thinkers of the day predicted what life would be like in 25 years. Martin Luther King, Jr. said he expected the world to “blush with shame” at the way we treated people of color.

The history of the church is peppered with embarrassing atrocities—traditions we no longer hold to. We are still growing and learning. I trust one day we will “blush with shame” at some of our ugliness.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

No Reconciliation for you!

Today's Wild Ride Wednesday is a hard one. I want you to know...I still pray for reconciliation.

I called and asked for a meeting with the pastor. It’d been several years since we’d attended the church, but the emotions were still raw and the pain was still real. My child encouraged me to once again seek reconciliation.

I’d always been open to restoration with the staff pastor who had booted me out of ministry, and I’d sought it on a couple of other occasions. He, however, wasn’t interested. So, I went directly to the big guy—the man who’d been leading the church for well over 40 years.

I walked in the office and sat down in the overstuffed chair. It seemed like I was 25 feet from the pastor. He had the biggest desk I’d ever seen in my life. A lot of granite had to die for that desk.

The pastor was familiar with my story. He knew we’d been forced to leave the church, but he wasn’t aware of all the nuts and bolts.

I had no interest in recounting all the ugly details—I only hoped for reconciliation and restoration. I’d do whatever it took to forgive and be forgiven.

The pastor’s words shocked me, although I’m not sure why. You’d think by that point I would have understood that the condemnation and judgmental finger pointing was a part of the church’s DNA.

The minister folded his hands, leaned slightly forward, and in his finest Southern gentleman drawl said, “We don’t have to reconcile with you. You work in the theatre and therefore, you are a danger to our reputation.”

And, there it is.

I don’t even know what to say to that. All I know is the pastor needs to step out from behind the behemoth that is his desk, step outside of the church, and see that Christians live in the real world. We have many and varied talents, and sometimes Christians dare to work in film, television, and the theatre!

There are times when I seriously can’t figure out what it is about Christians that draw people to God. That day, sitting in the pristine office of an old Southern pastor, was one of those times. I didn’t see Jesus in his eyes. I saw a Pharisee who effectively said, “Thank you God that I’m not like this person.”

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Hope for Tomorrow

I have on my coffee table a LOOK Magazine dated January 16, 1962. The publication is a special issue titled, “The Next 25 Years”. In it, several scientists, specialists, and other notables give their predictions for what life will be like in 1987.

Here are a few of the thoughts and expectations for the future:

“I hope that world peace will have become secure… I would expect the world to blush with shame to recall that, three decades earlier, a human being was graded by the color of his skin and degraded if that color was not white. I would expect the Christian era to begin.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

“In 25 years, either our lovely earth will be a charred lump of rubble circling the sun, or we shall all be well on the way to universal peace. I believe it will be peace. There is no room for anything else; certainly no room for war…Asia and Africa will become equal partners in the work of the world…Class and race distinction will have disappeared.” Sean O’Casey—Irish Playwright

“The quality of music in the smallest hamlet of the United States will equal that in the world’s capitals. Every library will have facilities for playing recorded music, plays, novels, and poetry—the sounds of living history and voices of the great men of our time…The separation between music of the theatre and music of the opera will become less apparent over the next 25 years.” Richard Rodgers—composer

“As a cautious optimist, I believe the world will be at peace in 1987. But the pessimist in me suggests that this peace may be preceded by conflict. If war occurs, I trust that it will at last give us a true perspective on its futility as a means of settling disagreements between nations.” Frank Ellis—Director, U.S. Office of Emergency Planning

It has been nearly 50 years since the above quoted predictions were made. I believe human beings are optimists at heart. We believe—really believe that the world will be a better place tomorrow than it is today.

One of Fresno’s native sons was not so optimistic. Read the words of William Saroyan:

“What our world is at this time, it is likely to be a quarter of a century form now. Why isn’t the world better? Why is the human experience profoundly violent, psychotic and deathly, and only superficially and occasionally fun, true, or meaningful? Briefly, the world isn’t better because it is an invention of man’s—because man apparently needs a couple of million years more.”

Remember, these predictions were made in 1962.

The magazine is fascinating. The fashionistas of the day made prognostications about what we’d all be wearing in 1987—they were way wrong! Did any of you ever see the episode of the original Star Trek called, “Mudd’s Women”? Well, it was the style of dress worn by the beautiful women in that show that most resembles the way we were expected to dress by the late ‘80’s. They underestimated the power of neon!

It was expected we’d be living in homes largely made of plastic, aluminum, porcelain-enameled steel, and reinforced concrete. As far as space exploration was concerned, scientists believed there would be manned expeditions to and from Mars by 1985.

In many ways life has not moved as quickly as it was once expected it would. In other ways, however, we have leapt over tall buildings. We’re living with AIDS, terrorism, computers, and an out of control drug culture.

On page 17 of the January 16, 1962 issue of LOOK Magazine, then president John F. Kennedy wrote encouraging words of hope for his country’s future. It does me good to read those words today:

“While I possess few flat predictions of life on this planet 25 years hence, I possess many hopes. I hope that we will have made the peace more nearly secure—that tranquility will have replaced terror in the intercourse of nations. I hope that our people will be richer and more secure—that the anxieties of unemployment and illness will be greatly reduced—that our national output will have vastly increased—and, equally important, that we will have learned to use our wealth wisely.”

Hope. Today, tomorrow, and always, we have hope.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Cries of a Strong Woman

For today’s Wild Ride Wednesday, I submit the most difficult and personal words I ever wrote. If you’ve never read my blog, I urge you to read it today.

Allow me to set the scene. Two of our kids were on drugs and I was fighting desperately for the lives they seemed determined to throw away. My extended family had said and done things that not only slowed, but also in some cases, reversed the work we had done to restore our children to wholeness.

Those same family members were making demands on my time and energies. I was, after all, the “strong one”.

We’d been asked to leave the church we loved—the place where our gifts and talents had been nurtured, where our children had been dedicated to the Lord, and where we’d been faithful members for thirteen years. I was accused of saying things I didn’t say and thinking things I didn’t think. It’s a shame when jealousy, selfishness, and pride ruin relationships—especially when it involves God’s kids.

My best friend told me “God closed the window of opportunity” to defend me and minister to my accuser.

Through it all I was working two jobs and I never missed a day. I was also singing in the choir at our new church and was helping the drama ministry.

I felt as if I was a failure as a mother, a friend, and a wife.

It was almost exactly six years ago to the day that I penned these thoughts. Here are the words just as I wrote them on September 10, 2004—raw and unedited.

*****

This is a page full of thoughts and words that I need to send out into the air and hope they come back less scrambled.

I feel so trapped. I want out, but to what? To where? To whom? Who do I want to be? To what end? I have been made promises that will never be fulfilled; I have been judged too harshly and not harshly enough; I have lied and have been lied to and the lies continue with the hope that if I repeat them enough they will become real and true. They are not bad lies, I tell myself, but rather kind lies. I say, "I love you", "Yes", and "That sounds great", but I don't mean it. I don't mean it. I hate myself more everyday for the "kind" lies I tell, the horrible truths that I hide, and the sadness I work so hard to disguise.

I'm afraid of the desperation that is closing in on me. I'm deeply disturbed by the thoughts I entertain, the world I escape to, and the joy I'm missing. I believe there is joy out there, even in here, but it feels so unattainable. It is sometimes just barely beyond my reach, but unattainable still. I think, "If I could just go there, I'd like it there". But I don't know where "there" is, and worse, I'm not entirely sure that "there" even exists.

The words I’ve written here are so jumbled and my thoughts are confused. Will they return to me in the form of answers and with clarity?

*****

These words are the cries of a strong woman. Look around. Chances are you are working with someone, living with someone, or sitting in a church pew next to someone whose heart is breaking and whose spirit is weak. Reach out.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Father's Gift

What is a gift?

It is the rain and the sun washing over the face
of a prisoner freed from a windowless cell.

It is the clean blanket and new socks that bring warmth
to the body and soul of a homeless child.

It is the opening of a door and the thunder of laughter
signaling the homecoming of a prodigal son.

What is a gift?

It is the chatter and giggles that come dancing from the bedroom
of a happy little girl who once was lost.

It is the music that rattles the windows and shakes the walls
of the house where a family really lives.

What is a gift?

It is every “I’m sorry”, “I love you”, “I need you”,
“You’re special”, and “I forgive you”.

And the greatest gift?
It is grace—unmerited, undeserved, unwarranted,
unearned, and unjustifiable.
It is the very same grace that is given willingly, freely, eagerly,
voluntarily, and enthusiastically.

Thank you Father.


Elizabeth Stoeckel
November 28, 2005

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Faith and the Thermometer


More from the wild ride that is our life. Today I’ll share another high—a time when our needs were met in unexpected ways.

It was around 1998. A little more than a year earlier Tom had been laid off from the well-loved job he’d had for nearly a decade. He’d dreamed of being an independent software developer and the unexpected and abrupt loss of employment put us on the fast track to self-employment.

It was a scary and exciting time.

An independent software developer doesn’t have a lot of over-head costs. We needed a computer. Check. A phone. Check. Talented software developer. Check. The most expensive part of the operation was the printing costs for the installation disks and product manual. We took a leap of faith and hired a local printer to do the job.

Now we owed $1,500 and the money was due in full in 30 days. I’m not gonna lie…I was worried. That was a huge amount of money and we had absolutely no idea where the funds for groceries were coming from, let alone the monies needed to fund a business.

I decided this would be a great opportunity to teach my kids something about prayer and God’s faithfulness. So, I drew a five-foot tall thermometer on a six-foot banner and hung it on our kitchen wall. We were going to pray, wait for the money to come in, and keep track of it with my elementary-school-inspired artwork.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret—this was a gigantic risk for me. I was not sure God could do this thing. We had gotten used to living on very little money. We needed every single penny for gas, food, rent, and utilities. I couldn’t imagine where an “extra” $1,500 would come from.

We prayed. We prayed some more.

We decided that any unexpected money would go towards moving the mercury up the thermometer. One day a card came in the mail and inside was a check for $25. The enclosed note said, “Hi Tom and Liz. Thought you might be able to use this. Have a great day.”

Wow! I used a fat red marker and filled in the rounded bottom of the gauge on the wall. The money started coming in. I had a birthday—money. Tom’s mom had a bit of a windfall and she shared it with us—money. We sold a record number of software packages that month—more money. Amazing.

I can’t recall here and now just exactly where every penny came from, but I can tell you that on the 30th day, the last few pennies trickled in and the entire thermometer was completely bright red!

I’d put the crude drawing on the kitchen wall to teach my kids about God’s faithfulness in times of need, but it was I who needed to learn that lesson!

As our life got harder and harder and spun farther out of control, God’s faithfulness wasn’t always easy to see. But then I’d remember the thermometer and I knew that even when my faith was small, His faithfulness was never failing.

He always shows up in the nick of time. He still does.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Confession

I urge you to read this one to the end before you pass judgment on me.

Confession—I regularly break the tenth commandment. Whew! That felt good. Confession IS good for the soul.

I understand most of you know what the 10 Commandments are, but you may need a refresher on which “Thou Shalt Not” is covered in the last law. I confess that I (big breath) covet. I want what others have.

I envy swimming pools. Well, more specifically—people who have swimming pools. I am jealous of you lucky ones who can walk out your door at any time of the day or night and swim, float on, sit in, or otherwise enjoy any body of water. If you live on an island with a warm ocean outside your door, be assured I am extra jealous of you!

But wait, there’s more!

What causes me to be a big time commandment breaker is my envy of relationships. I know people who have unconditionally supportive, non-judgmental, through-thick-and-thin, walk-through-the-fire, defenders of truth kinda friends.

My “friends” gossiped, judged, accused, and abandoned me when I needed them the most.

When a mom gives birth to a premature sick child, her friends rally with meals, house cleaning duties, and prayer. When a child is stricken with a serious disease or dies a premature death, the parents are embraced and loved. No one would dare blame the mom and dad for their heartbreak.

Being the mother of a prodigal child is a lonely business.

Here are just some of the “encouraging” words I’ve received during my journey:

“You need to give up on your child. He made his choice when he was nine years old.”

“If you give custody of your daughter over to the state, you will no longer be financially responsible for the cost of her rehab.”

“You should never have gone to work in the theatre.”

“What’s happening to your kids is your fault.”

And my favorite…

“Liz Stoeckel let her kids take drugs.”

The mom of a prodigal child has many of the same needs and concerns as the mom of a sick or dying child. Our days are filled with appointments, phone calls, and unforeseen emergencies. We have financial worries and emotional stresses. Our marriages suffer—sometimes they end. It seems that every phone call and mail delivery brings bad news. Every morning we wake knowing this could be the day our child dies from the disease of drug addiction.

Are you still with me? I want you to hear this; while I freely confess to my friend envy, I must admit that I’m glad it worked out the way it did. I’ve had the amazing privilege of meeting some incredible moms who, like me, have been abandoned by people who believe that drug addiction is an infectious disease. If I hadn’t had so many empty holes in my life and in my heart, I wouldn’t have had room for these great women. I would’ve missed the blessing of walking with them through their prodigal crisis.

I had lunch with a friend last week and she acknowledged that having a drug-addicted child is “different” from having a sick child. People underestimate the needs and concerns of the family of an addict. We judge and condemn the family of an addict.

Do you know the parent of a prodigal? Give them a call, drop them a line, or pay them a visit. They are most likely feeling isolated and alone and it would mean so much to them if they knew you were out there.

Okay…now that I’ve worked through my friend envy, I just need to figure out how to stop coveting your swimming pools. Man, it’s always something!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Still a Mama bear!


It’s Wild Ride Wednesday. Today I’ll talk about forgiveness, hope, and a mama bear’s response to someone her child should be able to trust.

I’ve written stories about my ex-husband. I experienced physical abuse at the hand of the man with whom I shared my bed, and I witnessed frightening spiritual attacks.

A couple of years ago Dallas received a strange message on his MySpace page. A nurse from Missouri wrote, “Are you Dallas Wayne Stoeckel of Clovis, CA?” He showed the message to me. Who could this be? How does she know his middle name?

As soon as I looked at the message and the pictures posted on the sender’s page, I knew. She was somehow connected to my ex-husband—Dallas’s biological father.

“What should I do?” Dallas was 23, but still asked for Mom’s advice on occasion. “Write back. Tell her you are in fact Dallas Wayne and ask if you know her.” He did.

The woman wrote back to say that she was a friend of Dallas’s dad and that after 23 years of absence, he wanted to have contact with him. If you are a regular reader of my blog you know that my ex walked out of our apartment in the summer of 1985 and we never saw him again. Dallas agreed to have contact.

They spoke briefly on the phone. Sadly, Dallas was told untruths.

Despite the lies, I prayed there would be healing. My ex-husband was addicted to cocaine for 20+ years. I watched my children wage their own battles with drug addiction, and I know first hand that an addict is...well...crazy! I hoped and prayed, however, that clarity would come with sobriety and that some kind of relationship would develop. My ex-husband claims to be a strong Christian and he asked me to forgive him for “betraying the vows” of our marriage. I readily forgave him. The truth is, I’d forgiven him long ago. I had to if I was going to love and raise our son in a healthy and happy home.

Over the past two years I’ve had some friendly contact with Dallas’s bio-dad, but Dallas hasn’t been interested in hearing more lies. Besides, Dallas lovingly pointed out, “I already have a dad”. Precious words from a son to my husband Tom—the man who loved and raised Dallas since he was a year old.

About the time my ex-husband popped back into our world I started getting letters from Fresno County informing me that they were collecting back child support monies from the long-missing man. The money wasn’t coming to me, however, but rather it was going to the county to pay them back for the period of time Dallas and I were on welfare following the separation. A couple of months ago Fresno County sent me a letter telling me the debt was paid in full. I asked them how that could be, since I personally never received any court-ordered reimbursement.

My ex-husband sent me the most horrible letter the other day, telling me I’m a liar and that I poisoned Dallas against him. He says he’s hired an attorney to get to the bottom of the child support “truth” since he “can’t count on” me for that truth. It’s been 25 years since he packed his bags and drove out of our lives. Why do his words sting?

While I would love to write a rambling paragraph defending myself, I know that isn't necessary. I hoped that after all these years, this man might actually have an opportunity to meet his son and get to know the awesomeness that is Dallas. Instead, he continues to blame and to deflect the focus from his own irresponsibility and bad behavior.

The mama bear in me wants to rise up and say, “You hurt my kid, and you must be taken down!” No matter how old my children are, the urge to defend and fight for them never diminishes. I really believe that God feels that same frustration when we hurt one another—His kids!

I also know that God allows consequences. It must be hard to sit back and watch His kids suffer because of our own bad choices, but He knows we’ll learn and grow because of it.

Dallas is a strong young man. His life is full. He has loving friends and a supportive family. He’s getting healthier every day. My ex is living with the consequences of his choices, but I can’t help feel a twinge of sadness. He’s missing out.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Dear Jaimee

On Sunday, August 15, 2010, Jaimee Baker-Renfrow passed away.

Last week I wrote about Jaimee’s valiant battle to live. She was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis when she was about three months old and until fairly recently she’s been surprisingly healthy.

Two weeks before her death, Jaimee was admitted to the hospital with a severe lung infection. The decision was quickly made to move her to the top of the transplant list and the search for the right lungs began.

Anxious fear turned to cautious relief late Saturday when the news came that a pair of lungs was available. Jaimee was prepped for surgery and people from literally all over the world began praying for the doctors, the family, the donor’s family, and of course—for Jaimee. By 2am Sunday morning a young man’s large lungs were breathing life inside the chest of a very tiny, very sick young woman.

Early Sunday afternoon something went terribly wrong. Jaimee was gone. Her body was just so tired. The cause of death was unrelated to the new lungs or the transplant surgery itself.

Jaimee’s faith in God was unwavering and she trusted Him completely. Her last words before being anesthetized and put on life support were, “Tell them to live for Christ”.

In my last post about Jaimee I wrote, “Rise and be whole”. Today she walks the streets of heaven. She’d been dancing since she was three years old. Today she’s dancing with unabashed freedom and joy—breathing deeply and without pain.

Dear Jaimee, you did it! You are finally able to rise and be whole!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Rise and be Whole

For today’s Wild Ride Wednesday I want to share the joy that has come by knowing a beautiful young woman named Jaimee Baker-Renfrow.


As I write this, Jaimee is lying in a hospital bed in southern California. A ventilator is helping her tired lungs do the job they did before the ravages of cystic fibrosis weakened them.

Jaimee is 23 years old. I remember the Sunday morning so many years ago when Tim and Pam Baker dedicated their baby daughter to the Lord. Tim’s dad is a pastor, and he lead the congregation in praying the blessing over Jaimee, and her family—which included older brother, Jason.

Less than a month later (it might even have been the next Sunday), our church's pastor asked the congregation to pray for baby Jaimee. The baby girl hadn’t been able to shake a chronic cough, and the doctors diagnosed the three-month-old with CF.

Modern medicine and the ever-growing body of science have kept Jaimee surprisingly healthy for the past two decades. On July 19, 2008 Miss Baker married Rony Renfrow. What a joyous day! I remember sitting at her bridal shower a few weeks before the wedding and marveling at the miracle sitting before me in the form of a blond-haired blue-eyed beauty. So many friends in one room—they’d shared the rollercoaster ride of Jaimee’s chronic illness with the entire Baker family and they came together to share the love.

It’s now been over a week since the doctors told Jaimee’s family that she would need new lungs within seven days because she was so ill. The doctors said she was too sick to last much longer without the new organs. The bad news is…no new lungs. The good news is…she’s still on the transplant waiting list. The spunky young woman barely stands five-feet-four-inches, but she is getting stronger. That’s huge!

A couple of weeks ago—just before being admitted to the hospital, Jaimee posted a note on her Facebook page called, “A prayer and praise written to my God in song lyrics”. She used lines from well-loved and well-worn hymns and worship tunes and she expressed her faith, strength, reliance on God, love for her family, and so much more. I believe she had a sense of what was coming, and she was girding herself for the journey.

My life has been a wild ride and because it’s what I know, it’s what I write. I do not, however, assume for one moment that I am better than, stronger than, braver than, or more spiritual than anyone else on the road of Life.

For the Baker/Renfrow family it’s been a wild ride. They’ve seen heartache, fear, joy, and miracles galore! Today they’re waitin’ on a brand new day and a brand new miracle.

Somewhere there’s a family who is facing the agonizing decision to let their loved one go so that his or her healthy lungs can breath life into a sick young woman in southern California. Their wild ride might just be beginning and I pray they will be surrounded by love and support as they make the choice to donate the organs of someone they love so much.

I love you Pam. I love you Miss Jaimee. Rise and be whole. Rise and be whole!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

You've Got To Promise Me!


Wild Ride Wednesday.

In September of 2004, when Giana was sixteen, she ran away from home. She disappeared on a Friday night and we knew she was in the company of two people—a 17 year-old girl I’ll call Tracy, and a 30 year-old man with a wife and kids.

Tracy was a freshman at Fresno Pacific University and she lived on campus. The college campus is located in the south end of Fresno, California where crime is high and the surrounding neighborhoods are in disrepair.

The first few days after the girls went missing were so confusing. Tom and I were in regular contact with Tracy’s parents. We’d hear something and we’d pick up the phone and fill them in, and they would do the same.

Sadly, as had been the case with a handful of other parents, Tracy’s mom and dad blamed us for their daughter’s drug use.

On Monday—three days after our daughter disappeared—Tracy’s parents looked at the bank records and discovered Tracy had spent a good chunk of money at the Target on the corner of Shields and Cedar. Their daughter had also withdrawn money from a mini-mart ATM near Olive and Highway 99. Based on these revelations we had ideas on which area of town to search.

Every little bit of information about our missing kids was like gold to us and to Tracy’s parents. We were frightened moms and dads who just wanted to find our baby girls.

At around four o’clock Wednesday morning my phone rang. Tom and I were barely sleeping, but I’m pretty sure the ringing phone woke me that morning.

“Liz! They found her! They found Tracy!”

The jubilant voice on the other end of the line belonged to Tracy’s mom.

“Where? How is she?”

“She’s fine. She’s in Stockton. The police found her and my husband is on his way to get her now.”

“That’s wonderful!” I meant that. We’d been praying for Tracy nearly as much as we’d prayed for Giana. We hated the idea of any other parent suffering the pain of not knowing where their child was.

I was almost afraid to ask the next question. “Is Giana with her?”

“I don’t think so. We’ll call you when we know more.”

It would be 24 hours before I heard from Tracy’s mom again. As soon as her dad got her into Fresno, Mom joined them and they drove straight on to Utah where they left Tracy at the Turnabout Ranch. We had a mutual friend whose daughter had successfully completed the rehabilitation program at Turnabout, and it was our plan to take Giana there as well—as soon as we found her.

I asked Tracy’s mom if she had any new information about Giana. No, she would tell me, she didn’t. Tracy had slept all the way to Utah and they weren’t in the mood to quiz her.

Not in the mood to quiz her!? For the first time since the girls had gone missing, I got very angry. I had no idea how to react. I held the phone…silent. Tracy’s mom continued.

“You must promise me you will NOT take Giana to Turnabout Ranch when you find her.”

I weighed my words carefully. “We’ve been searching for the right place for her. Turnabout is exactly the program we’ve been looking for.”

She was adamant. “Promise me, Liz. Promise me! I do not want Giana near Tracy. They won’t get well if they’re together.”

I promised.

I hung up the phone. Tom went ballistic. He wanted to know why his daughter wouldn’t get the same quality program that Turnabout offered. We felt so helpless. We didn’t know where our daughter was, and now someone was telling us where we could and could not take her for healing when we found her!

We never talked to Tracy’s parents again. They always seemed to blame us for their daughter’s missteps. Giana went to a much better rehab, and it turned out that Aspen Ranch—a rehabilitation facility about 80 miles from Turnabout—was EXACTLY where she was supposed to be.

Swimming in Dark Waters

We spent a lot of time swimming in and around Kaanapali today. We were just up the road from Black Rock—a place I hope to return to tomorrow.

The other day I wrote about my need to deal with things as they come. I’m not comfortable with the “go with the flow” or “don’t worry, be happy” kind of mentality. It’s not that I’m inflexible—far from it. But when trouble comes, I’d much rather deal with the situation at hand, and then move on with life.

The surf at Kaanapali Bay was very high and unstable today. I’m sure there’s been many times when it was more turbulent, but the waves were significant. In fact, at one point the warning alarm sounded, and the swimmers moved closer to shore.

A particularly high wave marched towards me. I dug my heals into the sand and attempted to hold my ground. I was no match for nature’s fury, and the wall of water pushed me down and twirled me around—leaving me confused.

I quickly learned that when a mountain of water was bearing down on me, the best way to deal with it was simply to put my head down and dive directly into the wall of water. In seconds it would pass over me and the trouble would be over.

That’s how I face life—I lean forward, round my shoulders, put one foot in front of the other, and like a defensive tackle on the football field, I barrel into the problem.

I know how to change the things I can change and accept the things I cannot. I learned in the past few days that if I find myself caught in a dangerous rip-tide—an undercurrent that drags people quickly out to sea—the best thing to do is to swim out of it. Don’t ride the current and don’t fight it. Simply swim out of it.

I could stick around and say, “wow, this is cool—the water's all swirly and stuff”, but I’d drown. There are people and situations that would love to suck me under, but I’ve learned to simply swim away. It’s the safe and healthy choice.

You’ll notice in the photo I’ve posted of Kaanapali and Black Rock Cove that the blue-green water is particularly inviting. The dark water is where the rocks are, and it’s not always pleasant to swim in and around the rocks. However, the dark waters are teeming with life. It is there—among the rocks—where the plants grow and the fish live and play. I love putting on my snorkel mask and watching the fish dance from rock to coral formation and back again.

So it is in my life. The dark waters have sometimes been scary and are often filled with dangerous boulders and prickly situations, but the growth that has come from our time in those waters is wonderful and amazing.

So, I’ll keep diving headfirst into life’s challenges, I’ll swim out of the relationships that have become dangerous riptides, and I’ll look for life in the dark waters. Yep…that’s how I roll.