Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day Thank You

On this Memorial Day I want to thank all the men and women who have fought to preserve the freedoms we enjoy today here in the United States. I want to acknowledge my friends, Carnot and Barbara Pease, whose son Christian was shot in Afghanistan late last year. They have shown amazing courage and love through their son’s long (and painful) recovery.

Barbara is the president of the local Blue Star Moms—a support group for mothers of soldiers. Her love for all the soldiers and their moms is inspirational.

I want to honor Tom’s family. He comes from a rich heritage of Naval officers and scientists who have contributed in many and varied ways to the greatness of our country.

Tom’s great, great grandfather was Commodore Byron McCandless. Byron not only served admirably, but he was also commissioned by President Roosevelt to design the presidential flag. He also designed the presidential seal that you see on the front of the podium each and every time the President of The United States speaks.

Bryon’s son, Bruce McCandless (Tom’s great uncle) was a Rear Admiral in the Navy. The U.S.S. McCandless was named after the father and son. It was a warship built by the Avondale Shipyard in Louisiana, and was commissioned on March 18, 1972.

Bruce’s son, Bruce II is an astronaut. He was in the control room during the crippled flight of Apollo 13. He would have been one of the men you see in the movie version sporting a fabulous hairdo known as the “crew-cut”.

Bruce II helped design the jetpack that makes it possible for men to walk un-tethered in space. He, in fact, was the first man to do so. The picture of him floating in space is on posters that grace elementary school room walls everywhere.

Thank you again to all our brave men and women who have and are serving this great country. I honor you.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Mother Guilt

The other night, Tom and I went out to dinner at The Acapulco in Fresno. We used to eat there quite regularly, as back in the day we were able to feed our kids for a mere pittance. We love Mexican food, and the selections at the eatery aren’t half bad.

The restaurant is broken into sections—almost individual rooms. We were seated in a section where there were no other costumers. After receiving our complimentary chips and placing our order, a young family was seated at the table next to us. The couple had beautiful twin boys who were about two years old. Tom and I immediately smiled.

We recalled when our kids were that young. Those days seemed so difficult at the time, but looking back now we see how really simple they were.

We watched the two blond toddlers wiggle in their high chairs and throw french-fries on the floor. Tom and I remember how we used to worry about the other restaurant patrons when our kids were that age. We hoped the young family didn’t feel that same anxiety as we were enjoying having a front row seat to the boys’ energetic play.

About mid-way through our meal, the young mom looked at me and said, “I feel like I know you. Do you know Kathy Jones?”

Kathy was a childhood friend with whom I still have occasional contact. I knew right away that these were the grandsons I’d heard about. I said, “This must be River and Rain!” Everyone smiled and the boys’ daddy said, “Oh, I feel so much better now, knowing that my kids aren’t disturbing total strangers.”

They weren’t disturbing us! We love watching young families!

When my kids were young, I was very uptight about their public behavior. I wish I hadn’t been. I’m not saying I would have let them run crazy and drive other people nuts. But, I wish I hadn’t let the expectations of others affect me as much as they did.

I remember once, when Drew was maybe 5 or 6, the phone rang. I recognized the voice as that of one of the pastors from our church. “Liz”, he said after some polite chitchat, “you know I love your kids. I feel that you are not teaching them proper respect, however.” Oh dear. What happened? He went on, “Yesterday Drew stuck his tongue out at me.”

The statement hung in the air for a moment, and then my head started to swim. Tongue. Respect. Teach my kids. Did the pastor honestly think I encouraged that kind of behavior?

I think I clumsily apologized and told the pastor I’d deal with Drew—and I’m sure I did.

A few days later I went to a choir rehearsal at the church and when I walked in the door a group of kids went running past me. I said, “You kids slow down before someone falls and gets hurt.” One of the little girls—she was around 4 years old—stopped, put her hands on her hips, and stuck her tongue out at me! Oh, by the way, she was a pastor’s child!

I just smiled and walked away. Hmmmm…I guess my kid isn’t the only one who needs to learn respect. I certainly did NOT pick up the phone and call the child’s mother to tell her how naughty her daughter was.

I absolutely do not advocate the sticking out of tongues by kids (or grown-ups for that matter). I am saying that us moms naturally carry the burden of our children’s behavior heavily on our hearts. We feel guilt over the choices our little ones (and big ones) make.

Moms chastise their children all the time. It’s natural for a kid to tune mom out now and again. It’s a good thing to have the rules reinforced by another adult once in a while. You don’t need to call the mom and tell her every little flaw you see in her child. She knows.

I’m just sayin’.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Paycheck to Paycheck

It's Wild Ride Wednesday! Each week I share another story from our crazy life.

When Tom and I were first married, he worked for a sound engineering and design company. Shortly before the wedding, the business changed hands and we were a bit apprehensive about Tom’s job security. Change can be scary.

Our concerns were squelched when upon returning to work after our honeymoon, Tom was given a $3,000 a year pay increase. I came into the marriage with my son Dallas, and it was important to Tom that I be a stay-at-home mom. We were thrilled that our gross base income would be $18,500 per year!

I was able to earn a few extra dollars a month by watching a couple of kids in our home. I got pregnant with Drew right away and I felt so blessed to be at home—enjoying every stage of Dallas’s development and every moment of my pregnancy.

It didn’t take long, however, for us to realize that the new owners of the company my husband worked for were following an interesting business model. Paying their employees was apparently optional.

Money was tight, as is often the case for a young company, and the paychecks started coming later and later. I’d call Tom on payday and ask if he’d be getting a check. More often than not he’d say, “Not today, but they’re hoping to cover payroll early next week”.

When we complained about the lack of timely pay disbursements, we were told that the company was a “ministry” and worrying about money meant we clearly “lacked faith”. Tom was told that it wasn’t the business owner’s fault that Tom married a “woman who already had a child”, and that I should get a job.

I went on scavenger hunts in my own apartment in search of enough lost change to buy a box of macaroni and cheese. I searched under couch cushions and behind furniture and bedposts. Every dime I made from baby-sitting paid for gas to get to and from the job that was becoming more and more stressful—what with not getting paid and all.

One day the owner of the company mandated that once a week for six weeks all the employees would come to his home to view a series of videos. Would we be paid for our time? No! Our attendance, however, was required.

We arrived at the boss’s home at the appointed hour and all the employees and their spouses (I think there were about ten of us) sat down in front of the television. The videos featured a Christian teacher who taught lessons in finances!

Now we were forced to get together once a week with a company president who couldn’t make payroll, so we could watch videos of a man teaching us how to handle money? Is this the guy whose principles they followed? If so, I wasn’t terribly impressed.

You might assume that this was a good thing because we were all learning to be better stewards of the monies that came in. The purpose, we discovered, was to make sure we were all tithing on the gross (not the net) so that God would multiply the dollars and bless the business. The boss was implying that the financial troubles of the company were brought on by the lack of faithfulness among the individual employees!

One payday I called Tom to ask the now familiar question I already had the answer to—would he be bringing a paycheck home? He told me we’d have to wait at least a week because the owner’s wife (who was the bookkeeper) was on vacation—in Australia! There was no money to pay the employees, but there was money for a trip to another hemisphere?

That, I believe, was the first time Tom really saw me completely lose my temper!

I think Tom worked for that company for another year or so. As is always the case, hindsight is 20/20, and we are able to look back and appreciate those really tough financial struggles. They bonded us and taught us that money really does NOT buy happiness.

Oh, and we learned to do our homework about a company before taking a job with them!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


My life has always been one filled with highs and lows, rights and wrongs, love and hate. I can’t seem to do anything in a small way. It’s all or nothing for me.

(I’ll post another “Wild Ride Wednesday” installment tomorrow. You can read about the employer who believed handing out due paychecks was optional.)

I am wildly popular with my boss, the teachers, and the students I work with everyday. I am a “gifted teacher” and a constant “source of encouragement”. Those are not my words, but rather they are the expressed thoughts of the ones with whom I share the bulk of my day.

My husband and kids adore me. My daughter regularly gives me a great gift—she calls me and shares her joys and even occasionally asks for advice. My sons talk to me, always say “I love you”, and they’re as open as a young man in his 20’s can be with his mom.

I am blessed to work with a group of strong, authentic, and courageous women who are not afraid to dive into shark infested waters and make a difference. They inspire and encourage me.

Finally, I have an outlet for my talent and passion for the theatre. I don’t get to work as often as I’d like to, but we here in Fresno are so blessed to have a lively theatre community. There’s always room for more, but the actors and directors I know and work with are all about quality. I love it!

There’s a dark side to my world too. I guess the same can be said about everyone’s life. I’ve tried everything I know to do to fix the sadness, but I don’t think it’s fixable.

I have a choice. I put up with the ugly, or I separate myself from it all. Sadly, making the choice to separate angers and disappoints people I care about. This, as you can imagine, magnifies the ugly!

Will life ever be easy? I would love it if the only drama in my life were on stage at the theatre!

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Inferno

We gossip all day long. We chat about Lindsay Lohan’s latest run-in with the law (apparently she’ll be wearing a new bracelet), and Michelle Obama’s biceps. We weigh in on the Jesse James/Sandra Bullock marriage and divorce drama, and we chatter on about which political candidate said what to whom.

Like all young girls, I loved to get in on a good gossip-fest when I was in junior high and high school. After all, the more gossip you were privy to, the more likely it was that you were part of the “in” crowd.

It wasn’t until I was an adult and the rumor mill started spewing out speculative slander about my family and me that I finally understood the devastation left by gossipmongers. Hearsay burns hot like an inferno, and it leaves nothing but embers and loss in its wake.

Gossiping with the girls about the latest Hollywood bad girl to whack on the paparazzi seems harmless enough, I guess. But, when the latest news to come down through the grapevine is about someone you know personally, just say no! Close your ears, close your mouth, and walk away.

Relationships are built between people who talk TO one another, not ABOUT one another. Further, if you want to keep a friend, don’t allow yourself to carry on idle chatter about that special person. You will lose their trust—I promise you.

You have a choice. I have a choice. Will we build bridges or brick walls—relationships or rumor mills? I have a choice.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

My Friend

My friend

When you came into my life I didn’t know how much I needed you.You smiled at me and then you clumsily said hello. Your simple words warmed me.

My friend

You were not afraid to share your weaknesses with me - for me to see all of you.

Your honesty gave me the courage to open the locked box that held my fears, my sadness, my joy, and my heart.

My friend

You showed me the stars.

You taught me appreciation for those things in life that I misunderstood.

You gave me insight. You helped me grow.

My friend

When I thought I would drown in a sea of sorrow the buoyancy of your laughter became my raft.

You reached me. You touched me. You saved me.

My friend

Thank you.

My friend

I love you.

My friend

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Blue Water

Here’s another story from the roller coaster that has been my life. I call it,

“Wild Ride Wednesday”.

I had been married to Terry for a year and a half and I finally had to admit that I had made a terrible mistake. I worked very, very hard on that marriage. I know people say that, but I really went above and beyond what Dr. Laura calls the “care and feeding of husbands”.

I could no longer suffer the abuse. I was tired. So, on April 1, 1984, I gave my apartment manager notice. I told her I’d be moving out at the end of the month and Terry would not be moving with me. I wanted my name taken off the lease as soon as possible so my credit wouldn’t be jeopardized.

Somewhere around the middle of the month I started to get nervous—not about ending my marriage—but about the calendar. I was late! I walked to the K-Mart on the corner of Kings Canyon and Chestnut and bought a pregnancy test. I took it home and carefully followed the instructions as spelled out on the neatly folded box insert.

The water turned blue! There was no “First Response” back in the day and blue water was the old school way I learned I was pregnant.

Terry shrugged his shoulders and said, “Well, I guess we should stay together”. Romantic! The news actually did bring a respite from the pain and we were happy for another minute or two.

I believed the baby would change Terry’s drug abusing, womanizing, and selfish ways. Most women in abusive relationships stay way too long. And, FYI, a baby NEVER fixes a bad relationship.

I was sixteen weeks along when I woke up at 3:00 one morning and had to use the bathroom. I was bleeding! I was so scared. Although I knew I wasn’t bringing my child into an ideal situation, this was still my baby and I already loved it. We had even chosen a name!

Terry wasn’t home. He was rarely home. He was a cocaine addict who partied all night and slept all day. I supported us. I lay in bed and prayed and cried. “Please God”, I pleaded, “save my baby’s life.”

My husband stumbled up the stairs and into our apartment at about 6:am. I was still crying. I told him I was bleeding and I was afraid I might be having a miscarriage.

“Good!” He didn’t spend a millisecond comforting me. “You know this baby shouldn’t be born.” I cried, buried my head in my hands, and sobbed uncontrollably. “Listen,” he pulled my arm away from my face and squeezed my wrist, “I know how to hit you in such a way that the doctors will believe it was a miscarriage. If you don’t lose the baby now—I can make it happen.”

Terry twisted my arm behind my back, announced he was going to bed, and walked away. I showered, got dressed, and left for work.

On December 8, 1984, Dallas Wayne was born—full term and extremely healthy.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Mom's Heart

A mom’s heart is a complicated thing. It’s so much more than an organ through which blood is pumped. It hurts heavy and loves large. It carries precious memories, wondrous joys, and uninvited burdens.

Over the past several years, I’ve had the great honor of exchanging emails with and talking to moms of prodigal kids. We share our failings and our triumphs—we laugh and we cry. I know some amazing moms!

Last night I talked with just such a mom for nearly two hours in a parking lot after our Bible study. Then this morning, I listened to a woman at work who needed to vent about her wayward children. The thing is, sometimes we just feel…I don’t know…not normal.

We all raised our kids the same way—in intact homes with two hardworking and loving parents. We were all American middle class families who went to church regularly, vacationed together, and filled the family album with happy memories. Now all our friends are bragging about their kids who are doing well in college, getting married, having babies, and making their way in the world. It’s hard to not feel a twinge of jealousy.

Between the three of us, we’ve supported our kids through drug addictions, jail, prison, crazy chaos, alcoholism, multiple hirings and firings, and more bad report cards than we ever dreamed possible!

The stress has taken a toll on the health of us frazzled moms—my work friend suffers from migraine headaches and fibromyalgia and I have post-traumatic stress disorder. All three marriages have taken a hit. Oh, and two of us have bunions (although to be fair, that probably has nothing to do with our kids).

I listen as the moms wonder why their now-grown babies aren’t like everyone else’s offspring, or why they can’t seem to just “do right”. My response is always the same—God is the perfect father, and his kids are a mess. Why should we expect perfection from ours? I know I know…I’ve written that before. But seriously, it bears repeating…don’t ya think?

When my husband runs into an old friend he hasn’t seen in years, they start talking work. When I run into a long forgotten acquaintance, she immediately asks about the kids. A man is identified by what he does, and a woman is identified by her relationships—particularly with her children and grandchildren.

I am blessed to be a mom. I am blessed to be the mom to MY children! Could our road have been easier? You bet! But, do I really want to be one of those gushing moms who go on and on about how perfect her child is? Guess what? No!

I’m so proud of my kids, and I’m proud of their journey. Our story has never been boring, and the final chapter is a long way from being written.

Monday, May 17, 2010

What's Spillin'?

“I have a ten-inch scar on my thigh.” That was the opening line of the pastor’s sermon yesterday at church.

He went on to tell the story of his diagnosis, treatment, and healing of melanoma—skin cancer. I’ve had two good friends who died from that dreaded disease. Melanoma gets started in the skin, which is the largest organ in the body. The cancer takes advantage of that big open road and can move at Autobahn-like speeds, leaving death and destruction in its wake.

The pastor asked the congregation to read with him the first few verses from the New Testament book of James. Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds. Pure joy? Trials? Are you kiddin’ me?

I’ve read through the entire book of James several times. If you want a real challenge—if you want to be the best you can be—forget about joining the Army. Read the book of James!

The pastor held in his hand an open bottle filled with water, and he shook it. Water immediately began spilling out onto the floor. It wasn’t coffee that splashed out—neither was it tea or juice or champagne. You see, when life shakes us up, what spills out is exactly what’s been poured in.

The diagnosis of cancer shook up the pastor’s life. God, faith, and hope spilled out.

When our oldest son was 18 he was lost in his world of drug addiction. Because he was a legal adult, there was nothing I could do to help him. I could only love him and pray. There were long weeks when I didn’t know if Dallas was alive or dead. I had no idea where he was sleeping or if he was safe. I cried every night.

Then, as if my world wasn’t scary enough, our 16-year old daughter ran away from home. I kept going. I kept working each and every day—teaching, laughing, and dancing. I began my days at 4:30 or 5:00, took a quick shower, made a few phone calls, drove around town putting up “missing” posters, then off to work. After school—more phone calls and more posters, then to my second job. I’d crash around midnight. Everyday it was the same routine.

One day my boss and friend, Dan Pessano, said, “Liz, there’s a storm swirling around you, but you keep smiling. You’re Miss Mary Sunshine, and I appreciate you.”

I didn’t feel like Miss Mary Sunshine, that’s for darn sure! I was spending a lot of time crying, after all! But this was the deal…the people around me knew my life was falling apart, but they were noticing something in me. My life was being shaken and what was in me was spilling out.

I’ve written before about the woman who once told me I was “too weak” to be her friend. I believed her. Until life shook me to my core, that is. People who watched me walk through that fire tell me I’m the strongest woman they know.

Our family troubles did not shake our family alone. Our extended family and friends were shook as well, and what came out of them was not always good stuff. Some of them oozed criticisms, judgmental attacks, anger, confusion, and denial. Most people did nothing at all. Others, in their desperate attempt to help, gave stones when we needed bread.

We were shook, and what was in us came spilling out.

If you haven’t been shaken by life, you will be. The biggest challenges are like a melanoma—if left unchecked it will move quickly and take over the whole body. If it’s dealt with, it will leave a scar, but you’ll learn what you’re really made of.

So, what’s in your cup? Fill it up with the good stuff—God, faith, love, and family.

Friday, May 14, 2010

We're Game Changers

Last night some 25 women gathered at a beautiful home in the gorgeous “Van Ness Extension” neighborhood in my hometown. We came together for the purpose of brainstorming and thinking outside the box.

The girls who showed up last night share a dream—a desire to create a Valley wide Christian women’s group. It was inspiring to be in the company of so many amazing, talented, beautiful, and creative ladies—true game changers!

There’s a disturbing trend in churches today to separate and divide the church family into tiny little subgroups. Large gatherings, events, and Sunday school classes have given way to small groups. I don’t mean groups of say…50 people. I’m talking about clusters no larger than 8 or 10 people. Groups numbering more than that are encouraged to divide.

“The Church”—that is, the world church—has already been broken into denominations. The denominations then break off into factions. The Mennonite church, for example, has several sub-groups. There’s the (Old) Mennonite Church, the General Conference Mennonite Church, the Mennonite Brethren Church, and the Amish.

If I were a Baptist, I could choose to be a Southern Baptist, a General Baptist, a Calvinist, or a Seventh-Day-Baptist, just to name a few. Whether you consider yourself a liberal Christian, a conservative, or a legalist, there’s a church out there for you.

Further, we’ve divided ourselves over music, food, jewelry, make-up, and public education. Jesus called us one body. We fight, argue, gossip, condemn, and judge the very same people we share the pew with on Sunday morning.

Paul wrote this in Colossians 3:14-16 (NIV): And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.

When people are divided they fight. Where there is unity, there is appreciation and respect. “United we stand, divided we fall” is more than just a clever cliché. It’s the truth!

So, we hope to gather thousands of women together from all over the Central Valley to support, love, encourage, and challenge one another. I hope California is ready to be nurtured and cared for in a whole new way!

Look out Central Valley. The girls are uniting! We’re gonna love on you big time—ready or not!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Love Means Never Having To Say You're Sorry

When I was a young girl there were two movies I would always watch when they came on TV—“The Way We Were”, starring Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford, and “Love Story” starring Ryan O’Neil and Ali McGraw. "Love means never having to say you're sorry” is the most oft quoted line from "Love Story".

Ali McGraw played the smart, but underprivileged girl (Jenny) who married Ryan’s character—preppy rich boy, Oliver. Their idyllic and romantic love affair was not acceptable to Oliver’s snobby family and he was financially and emotionally cut off from them for dallying with the girl from the wrong side of the tracks.

Jenny was a master of one-liners and quips and she laughed at Oliver’s emotional and romantic nature. He’d fumble all over himself when he upset her and would blubber, “I love you. I love you. I’m sorry.” Jenny would kiss him on the forehead and simply say, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry”.

The movie saga takes a tragic turn when Jenny is diagnosed with leukemia. As she lay dying in the hospital she looked at Oliver and said, “I’m sorry”. Oliver held her hand and said, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry”.

When I was in high school I carried around a three-ring binder that was covered with clever sayings and bumper sticker truisms—the “sorry” quote among them. One day my mom saw the book and said, “I don’t agree with that”. She continued, “Love means saying ‘I’m sorry’ when you hurt someone.”

I never forgot that. I’ve had to apologize many times in my life. Let’s face it…I screw up! Don’t we all? Come on…wipe that incredulous look off your face. You know in your heart of hearts that you’re far from perfect. We imperfect ones have got to shake off the pride and say, “I’m sorry” now and again. I’ve said it to my husband, kids, family, and friends—and I meant it.

Ideally, saying those three words means changing the hurtful behavior as well. That’s the difficult part, of course, but relationships are worth it. There’s no guarantee the one we hurt will accept the apology. I once poured out my feelings of remorse to a dear friend. She looked at me, rolled her eyes and said, “whatever”. She then asked if I was done and if she could go home.

Despite my mom’s stated belief, she finds it difficult to say those three words. In fact, I don’t remember hearing an apology from any member of my family ever.

Whenever there has been a conflict among my siblings or with my parents, it goes something like this: They say something awful, I say something awful, a few weeks pass, we forget about it, and we go on like nothing happened.

Some time back I made the choice to stop the cycle. Enough is enough—for me anyway. I found myself being beat down with criticisms and sarcasms. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but the words were killing my spirit.

A much-loved family member did something that offended me greatly. I addressed it. The response? “I will no longer share my life with you”, and “I had the best day ever and you ruined it”.

So…I find myself at a familiar bend in the road. It’s the point at which I would normally forget that anything bad ever happened and let things go back to the way they’ve always been.

I want better.

Love is saying, “your pain matters to me”, and “I’m sorry I hurt you”. The perception from the other side is that I owe the apology because I was selfish when I expressed my heart.

I don’t know where this will end, but I know I want healthier relationships. I guess I need to know that my feelings and opinions are valued—not necessarily shared—but valued. In addition, I need my friends and family to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they matter to me too. Though our beliefs and opinions may differ, their pain is my pain, and I would never dismiss it with “you ruined my day”.

I want better.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

What's In Your Closet?

I couldn’t wait to get home from work on that beautiful spring day in 1985. P.F. Communications hired me to be a production assistant in September of 1984, when I was six months pregnant with Dallas. The company was a Christian-owned business and I was so lucky to spend each day with supportive and kind co-workers.

I started my maternity leave on December 4—just four days before Dallas was born, and went back to work six weeks later. My boss let me bring my new baby to the office several days a week. How lucky was I!

I liked and enjoyed my job, but I adored my new role as “Mama”. I relished the time I spent with my son—reading stories, taking long walks, feeding and bathing him, and listening to his happy baby laugh.

Dallas’s father had spent the majority of our 2½-year marriage addicted to cocaine, but he seemed truly committed to sobriety now that he was a daddy. On that gorgeous afternoon the sun was shining, the air was warm, and the trees in our neighborhood were covered with new green leaves and tiny white blossoms. I wanted to get home, put on my comfy shoes, and take my son for a long walk—maybe I’d introduce him to ice cream. He was, after all, five months old.

I walked into our tiny apartment on the corner of Maple and Shields in Fresno, California. My husband didn’t have a job. God “told” him to stay home and wait for directions. As soon as I entered the front room—with Dallas propped on my hip—my husband rushed in from the bedroom.

“I’ve been casting demons out of your closet all day”, he said. “Every article of clothing is dripping in evil.” The only bedroom in the small apartment had been transformed into a nursery, so the front room doubled as the master bedroom. I calmly laid my son on the queen-sized bed.

“What are you talking about?” I kept my voice quiet and low, as I didn’t want this to escalate in front of my baby.

“There are demons everywhere! God told me that you are possessed.” My husband came at me and before I knew it, he had me pinned to the wall. I hadn’t realized that my purse was still hanging from my shoulder until I felt it slip down my arm and heard the thump as it hit the floor.

“In the name of Jesus,” my husband prayed, “I cast out the demons from this woman’s body.” The father of my child tightened his grip on my shoulders and used the force of his entire body to hold me firmly to the wall. He began speaking in tongues—his “prayer language”.

What should I do? I tried to think quickly. If I cried or screamed, surely he would believe he was right about me being possessed, and he would continue the attempted exorcism. If I did nothing, how long would he keep me pinned to the wall? Would he choke me? Would he kill me?

He clenched his teeth and touched his nose to mine. My young son was lying just four feet from me, but I couldn’t reach him. I heard him start to cry.

“Please.” I barely recognized my own voice. “Please don’t do this.” I felt his grip on my upper body relax and the tension lesson slightly in my legs. I was unable to control my own muscles as I felt myself slip down the wall. My husband grabbed me, pulled me towards him, and then slammed me hard against the wall. “You like living in her, don’t you Satan!”

He turned and walked away.

I ran to my baby and scooped him up off the bed. His frightened blue eyes were like giant saucers and they seemed full of questions—questions I wouldn’t answer for many, many years. I grabbed my purse and a couple of diapers, and ran downstairs.

After securing Dallas in the car seat, I drove away. Not having anyplace to go, however, I returned to that dark apartment less than an hour later.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Mother's Day

Sunday was Mother’s Day. I blogged yesterday about my lack of confidence, and that uncertainty slips into my mothering. Being a mom, however, is the best thing that ever happened to me.

My kids and my husband tell me I’m a fabulous mother. I had the luxury of staying at home with my two sons and daughter when they were little, and I put them first. Being my kids’ mom has brought me mountains of joy.

Dallas, Drew, and Giana have always been unique. Not in that “my kid is cuter than your kid” kinda way. I mean they are extraordinary. It was as if they were born wearing wings on their backs and roller blades on their feet. From the moment they took their very first breath, they were itching to fly.

My kids reveled in their uniqueness. Sometimes, that meant they pushed boundaries and crossed lines. One Sunday morning when Dallas was around 4 years old, I picked him up from his class after church. His teacher looked at me and said, “Dallas was very bad today. Tell your mommy how bad you are.” I didn’t know whether to cry or smack that chubby gray-haired woman!

The years have washed away the details of whatever trouble my son had caused, but I know I went home and taught him the difference between being bad and doing wrong. Good people sometimes do bad things, but God loves us still.

The church busybodies and rumormongers used to stop me in the hallway on Sundays. One said, “I heard you don’t believe in spankings. I think your kids need a good spanking.” Another woman said, “I heard you let your kids watch ‘The Power Rangers’. I think that show is making them crazy’.”

I wish I’d had the courage to ignore any sentence that started with “I heard”, but I was a young mom and I valued the advice of older women. I also grew up in a gossipy church, so this type of female chatter was…well…normal. By the way—I DID spank my kids, and I did NOT let them watch “The Power Rangers”.

One day a few years ago I ran into a woman who asked about my kids. I was sad to report that Dallas was battling a drug addiction and had recently been arrested. “Liz”, she said as she took my hand in hers, “Dallas made his decision when he was a little boy. It’s time to give up on him.” Never! I’d never give up on my children.

When my kids were younger I went to every dance recital, talent show, opening night, soccer game, basketball game and parent/teacher conference. When they got lost I searched for them in crack houses, seedy sides of the city, homeless shelters, and dark alleys. I loved on them when they were in jail, rehab, and hospitals. Today, they are my friends.

So, another Mother’s Day has come and gone. It would have been impossible to be a perfect mom or to raise perfect kids. I am human and flawed, after all. Tom and I have raised fabulous free spirited kids.

Dear Dallas, Drew, and Giana,
I thank God for you, and I am so grateful that He trusted me to be your mom. I thank you guys for your love and friendship. You stretched me, taught me, and helped me become the woman I am today.

To the ladies out there who get to be "Mom" to extraordinary kids—Happy Mother's Day! They were born to fly and you get to enjoy the adventure. Blessings to you all, and hang on!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History

The great thing about blogging is I feel I have the freedom to be transparent here on these pages. I’m not looking for acceptance or heads nodding in wild agreement with my every thought and rant. Sadly, however, that’s exactly what I sought from friends and family for most of my life. Fear of not fitting in or not being accepted dominated me for too many years. I want to be more self-assured.

Last weekend I had the great honor of sharing a car ride to and from Los Angeles with a smart, talented, and strong woman. She is not afraid to speak truth and she oozes confidence.

Resolute and gutsy women can be intimidating, and therefore are often run out of groups, churches, or businesses. That’s especially true in churches. In religious institutions, I find that religiosity trumps relationships, even though Jesus taught the exact opposite. As I listened to my friend share her heart and her stories, I found myself envying her uncompromising confidence.

I’ve spent my whole life trying to be exactly what I was expected to be. I was “the strong one” in my family and I always felt an obligation to be there for everyone else. I’ve honored my commitments and followed through on my promises to complete projects—even if it meant going without sleep or missing out on “me” time.

I’ve written before about being the “good girl”. For me, being the good girl meant that I was often hushed—sometimes by my own fear of rejection.

When life happened and I had to focus on my own stuff, I stopped doing for everyone else. I was told I was “selfish”. When I expressed an unpopular opinion I was accused of being “manipulative”. When I took a stand against sarcasm and family drama I was told I was “critical” and “judgmental”.

Even though I know in my heart that I speak truth and that surely I have the right to my own feelings and opinions, I have allowed myself to believe the lies. I am convinced that if I do not behave in the manner to which others have become accustomed, then I will have less value. I’ve let the expectations and needs of everyone else dominate my thoughts and deeds. Along the way, I lost me.

I wondered, during that long car-ride with my new friend, how it was that she understood that what others thought of her was their problem. She knows her heart, and I truly wish I had her confidence.

Listen, this is the deal—if you care enough about me to have a relationship with me you will not make assumptions or judgmental accusations, and you won’t attack my character. If you’re confused about something I said, or upset with my actions, you will talk to me and you will believe that what I’m telling you is the truth.

I know my heart and more importantly—God knows my heart. I refuse to be well behaved because it’s what YOU expect from me! Well-behaved women seldom make history!

Friday, May 7, 2010

A Magical Place

This blog is five years old! I can't believe it. I write quite a bit more often now than I used to. Since I know many of you are just now discovering me, I thought I'd repost something from 2006.

I present for your reading pleasure...A Magical Place

I know many people who live in a very happy place—a place where there are few challenges, where children are well behaved, where living is simple and carefree…a place where life is downright blissful. On occasion I have visited this magical land and I therefore know it exists. But, I never stay long enough and I always end up back home.

This delightful and enchanting land is called, “Denial”.

My own visits to Denial have varied in length and my reasons for taking those trips are as numerous as the expeditions themselves. When I was younger I went in search of fantasy and fairytales and because I grew up believing in both, I had to be sure I left no stone unturned in my quest. Other trips were motivated by less joyous passions—fear, sadness, weariness, loss, and more often then not—selfishness. I always come home.

The residents of Denial always seem to be at peace. They whistle happily and say things like, “my children have NEVER given me one ounce of trouble and are smart, talented, and beautiful”, or, “my husband has never said a harsh word and treats me like a queen every moment of every day”, or, “I’m the perfect best friend and I’ve never let anyone down”.

Denial’s residents are experts at everything, they don’t struggle under the burden of personal responsibility, and they seem to never experience shame or guilt. Who wouldn’t want to live in such a place?

A mother recently left a message on my phone telling me all the reasons her daughter’s wrong choices were my fault. She said my kids were a “bad influence” on her daughter. My husband and I made a decision about a situation with Giana, and this mother wasn’t happy with it. She said to me via the phone message, “you’re making my life hard”.

How is it that what goes on in my home affects her in the slightest little bit? She doesn't need my permission to live her life, and I shouldn't need to carry the burden of making her life "hard" because of what goes on in the privacy of my home.

I had a best friend who witnessed another friend pummel me with a torrent of judgment and lies. Instead of standing up for me, she took a long trip to Denial and settled in for a nice quiet vacation with the stone-throwing friend. Long stays in Denial change people and I lost my best friend.

Maybe I need a change. Maybe it’s time I pack my bags and move to Denial for good. The population in that spell-binding place is high, but I bet there’s room for one more!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Wild Ride Wednesdays

I’m starting a new feature today called, “Wild Ride Wednesdays”. Life’s journey is full of twists, turns, and topsy-turvy rides.

I’ve ridden the proverbial roller coaster of life up to the highest highs, and into the tunnels, crazy dips, and unexpected bends. Along the way I’ve also seen downright crazy stuff. So, I thought I’d tell you one whacky story every Wednesday. And the best part is—they’re all true. Enjoy the first installment of “Wild Ride Wednesdays”.

Cool Breeze of Peace

My little apartment was stuffy and the tiny cooling unit on the wall in the front room couldn’t cut through the oppressive heat. Summers in Fresno, California are ugly. If you don’t have a good air conditioner, you’d best get yourself to a mall, movie theatre, or swimming pool—and fast!

Dallas was six months old, and had been unhappy all day long. I felt sure it was the heat. I gave him a cool bath, filled a bottle with icy water, and put him to bed for the night. I walked past the second bedroom and I heard my then-husband mutter, “You’re in love with someone else”.

He wasn’t going to start something tonight, was he? Really? The heat was stifling both inside and outside the apartment. I just wanted to sit on the couch, watch a little television, and try to stay comfortable. He persisted. “I know you’re in love with someone else.”

I stood in the doorway of the bedroom. The man I’d been married to for 2 ½ years sat at a drawing desk—his back to me. We’d had happy times, and for a few months just after Dallas’s birth it seemed that my husband had been putting his demons behind him. He was waging a mostly losing battle with cocaine.

I’d been beaten down, sometimes physically, but the emotional abuse was the toughest to deal with.

“What are you talking about?” I asked the question, but I didn’t expect a rational answer.

A few months before, I would have been scared. But, becoming a mom had given me a newfound confidence and a burst of courage. “I’m not in love with anyone else”, I said. He wouldn’t turn and look at me, but he repeated the accusation—this time with more force. “You’re in love with someone else!”

“Fine”, I acquiesced, “I’m in love with somebody else. You tell me who.” I wanted this stupid conversation to be over. For the first time since he opened his mouth, he turned to look at me. My husband had beautiful blue eyes, but my heart leapt into my throat when I saw his face. His blue eyes were brown!

He opened his mouth to speak, but it wasn’t his voice. He spoke in a hushed, deep tone, and in slow, deliberate syllables. “I know who you love.”

I felt a calm wash over me like I’d never known before. I walked into my bedroom, lay down on the bed, and prayed. “God,” I said, “I wasn’t talking to a man in there. That was evil. I can’t fight whatever that was on my own. Please, take care of this for me.”

You see...I believe I was talking to an evil spirit, and the “someone else” I loved was God. A few short days later, my husband walked out of my apartment and I never saw him again.

God gives peace in times of storm. On that balmy summer night in 1985, God gave me a cool and comforting breeze.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


She runs with the wind
She lets it carry her, as red leaves on an Autumn day.

She hears the call.
It beckons her, “come, taste, see”.

She sings the song of freedom.
She dances unapologetically and with brave abandon.

I was the teacher, now she teaches me.
I was her lighthouse, now she leads me to the beauty in the storm.

She’s wild and mild.
She’s calm and restless.
She’s joy and outrage.
She’s light and she’s dark of night.
She’s the future….

She’s my daughter.

Elizabeth Stoeckel
January 2, 2009