Thursday, July 29, 2010

I choose to deal!

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about my fear of planning a vacation. Every time—EVERY TIME we plan a vacation, something happens to suck the joy and money out of the plans.

I know life isn’t fair, but…. Well, you know the rest.

As I write this, I have a beautiful view of the mountains of Maui through my hotel condo window. The challenges we’ve faced as we charted out this respite have not been the most difficult, but there have been so many.

We dealt with sick cars, sick dog, and a sick refrigerator. Most of the money we saved specifically for this trip was drained from our account before we even left. Then, the night before we caught our 5:30am flight, the kitchen sink backed up. Nothing cleared the blockage.

Tom is very handy, but he was not able to fix the sink in the time we had before leaving town. So, we cleaned up the mess, turned off some of the water, put buckets and bowls under the sink to catch the dripping water, and left town. Even with all those precautions, the kitchen is STILL wet.

The kids are home and are dealing with things. I appreciate them so much! They are cycling through towels—drying the wet ones and laying out dry linens to absorb the water. We canNOT find the source of the leak!

I am amazed at the way my Facebook followers and friends suggest I deal with this crisis.

“Just get on the plane and let your house float away.”

“Forget about it!”

“Turn off the water in the house, and GO!”

I’m a deal-with-it kind of girl. I think that most of the friends and family who gave me the “forget about it” advice, are also people who deal with stuff. They are smart, talented, energetic, and strong. They don’t get that way by ignoring life’s challenges…they DEAL.

If I ignore the leaky sink, the small problem will turn into a major financial and physical loss. The floor and cabinets will rot and be ruined. Besides, can I really rest and relax on my vacation knowing my kitchen is being destroyed, one drip at a time?

I deal with things! When my kids were on drugs, we dealt with it. We never buried our head in the sands and ignored the signs and the loss. If we’d taken the “don’t worry, be happy” kind of road in our life, our family would be completely broken and our children might be dead.

I do pray, “God, give me the strength to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

There are loved ones in my life who would love for me to accept some things as unchangeable. That means that there is no hope for better. That is something I cannot accept, but that’s just me.

Life is filled with challenges. Life is filled with joys and amazing celebrations. I won’t let the trouble rob me of my joy. Rather, I will DEAL with the roadblock so I can get back on the road!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Little Hollywood in Visalia, CA

On this Wild Ride Wednesday—a little taste of Hollywood.

In November 1992 my sister, Tina and I both got to be extras in the Touchstone movie, “The Son In-Law” starring comedian Pauly Shore. I’ve worked as an extra in several movies and television shows. It’s a fairly easy gig to get, actually.

Anyway, the silly movie was about a young girl who leaves the farm and goes away to California for college. Some of the scenes were shot at a ranch in Visalia, California—just a few miles from my home.

Tina and I showed up to the movie set at around 7:am. The set was a huge old barn that had been decorated for an old fashioned barn dance. There were about 75 extras all dressed in varying degrees of cowboy chic.

We had a blast during the two-day shoot. We had several lovely conversations with some of the stars. Tiffani Amber Thiessen and Dan Gauthier were smart, personable, and approachable. We especially loved hanging out with the musicians on the set. We had mutual friends and shared many laughs. You can even see Tina and me in the movie, and Tina got a close-up.

At the end of two long 14-hour days the shoot was finally wrapped. The actual scene in the movie is only about seven minutes long. Everyone was tired, but Tina and I were invited to hang out with some of the cast members at their hotel.

We sat down at the bar and chatted briefly with Pauly Shore and then with another actor (who will remain nameless). We’d been hanging out with him for two days and felt very comfortable. He offered me a drink. In fact, he offered me his drink.

After just a few sips of the white wine my head was spinning. How could so little wine have this effect on me? He invited Tina and I up to his room to get an autographed photo. Listen, this guy had been married for 25 years. We had no reason to suspect that he had nefarious plans for us.

We got in the elevator and the actor touched me in an inappropriate manner—with Tina standing right next to me! I grabbed his hand and said, “If you ever do that again, I will break your fingers!”

We got the autographed photo without ever going into the guy’s room. It took several hours for the effects of whatever I drank to wear off.

The next day Tina got a call from the handsy actor who invited her to spend the day in Sequoia with him. She said “no!”

I still love to watch “The Son-In-Law” whenever it shows up on TV. It’s fun to remember those two good days on the set of a silly movie with a group of really talented people—with the one exception of course.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Live Theatre (why is the church saying "no"?)

I love live theatre!

Live theatre moves the audience in a way that no other entertainment medium can. The viewer sits in the theatre seat expecting to be entertained, and soon finds that he is more than a spectator. He’s a part of the action—he’s a guest of the characters on the stage and he’s been invited into their private world.

I love live theatre!

Last night I had the honor of watching several fine actors perform brilliantly in the wonderful musical comedy, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”. Not only are they wonderful actors, but I also get to count most of the cast as my friend. I’m so blessed.

I work for a theatre company that has been putting out quality work for 35 years. New York and it’s Broadway and off Broadway fare is as exciting and vital as it’s ever been. Touring companies bring stage shows to the everyday man, and the everyday man is still coming out in droves to see and be entertained.

I don’t think theatre will die anytime soon.

Several years ago I performed the lead in a fun piece that was written, directed, and produced by a local guy. The show was rated PG-13 and I was totally put on blast for doing the show by a couple of “friends” of mine. The funny thing was that this couple was in the film industry and they made a few horror films that were rated at least a PG-13 if not R.

When they were oh so critical of me doing the show, I pointed out that I would never criticize the movies they made and would never judge their heart or character as they had done to me. “The stage”, the man said, “is different. Everything is so in your face—so right there.”

And that is what makes theatre amazing!

For years I had the great gift of writing, directing, and performing in churches. But those days seem to be gone—at least here in my hometown. Why? Jesus told parables and painted word pictures that drove His point home and into the hearts of the people.

Live drama has the power to bring spiritual truth to life. Well-performed skits or vignettes can show how Biblical truth can be applied to our daily routine.

But…the fast-paced video has taken the place of sketches on church platforms. The really good writers are applying their crafts someplace where they will be appreciated, and they’re not donating their time to church any more. Church drama departments are full of flakey misfit toys and the pastors have become weary of working with them.

Those are my observations, at least.

I have a passion for God and a passion for the theatre and I dream of combining the two. And so, I’ll keep looking for my platform.

In the meantime…I’ll continue to perform when I can. When I can’t—I’ll watch my brilliant friends, as they do it better than anyone I know!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Miracle Wedding

Today I’ll take a bit of a detour from my usual Wild Ride Wednesday fare. On my journey I’ve had the amazing privilege of having a front row seat to many miracles. Today’s post is about one such miracle.

I’ll never forget the very first time I saw Brooke. It was Thanksgiving Day, 2004.

In early October Tom and I made the painful 750 mile drive to Loa, Utah where we left our daughter at Aspen Ranch to get the rehabilitation and counseling she so desperately needed. Six weeks later Tom and I, along with our son Drew, went to Loa to see Giana and celebrate Thanksgiving with her. You can bet we had much to be thankful for.

Our daughter was so full of joy that day and it was abundantly clear to all of us that she was on the road to recovery. We sat at large picnic tables in the ranch-style dining hall—a traditional Thanksgiving spread lay before us. Just as we buttered our rolls and took our first bite of turkey and gravy, a young girl was escorted into the large room. She sat down at a table a few feet from us.

Brooke was 15 or 16, thin and slight, and had reddish hair that was cut short in the back and long in the front. She had big beautiful eyes. Brooke’s parents made the tough decision to leave her at this place in order to save her life. There were a hundred or so other young people whose parents had made the same agonizing choice.

Six weeks earlier we were those parents and that frightened young girl was our child. I caught Brooke’s eye from across the dining hall and smiled at her.

Every time we visited Giana over the next many months, we got to watch not only her progress, but also the growth of the other girls in her group. We got to know the other families and we grew to love them. We needed one another’s support and encouragement and having those strong moms and dads in our life made the journey so much easier.

Brooke’s parents were amazingly strong, supportive, and loving.

After Gia left the ranch she kept in touch with a few of the kids she met there. She has stayed particularly close to Brooke and her boyfriend Ryan. Gia well remembers the moment Broke and Ryan first saw one another at rehab. It was—Gia says—love at first sight.

It’s been 5 ½ years since that Thanksgiving Day at The Aspen Ranch in Loa, Utah. This past weekend Gia and I flew to Boise, Idaho where we had the profound joy of watching Brooke and Ryan get married.

The wedding guests gathered at a beautiful Episcopal Cathedral in downtown Boise where Ryan’s grandfather officiated the traditional ceremony. He shared Brooke and Ryan’s story with the guests. He extolled the amazing love of two sets of parents who sacrificed so much to save the lives of their lost kids.

He praised Brooke and Ryan for their strength and faithfulness to each other and to their recovery.

I cried tears of joy through the whole ceremony.

After the wedding we gathered at a nearby hotel for the reception. There I greeted Brooke’s parents. The moment we embraced we shared a thousand unspoken words, and precious memories.

“Thank you so much for sharing this day with us!”

“We wouldn’t have missed it for the world!”

Another day…another miracle.

I am so honored to have had a front row seat to so many miraculous moments. I get to see my own kids every day and I never take their lives for granted. I will never forget where we’ve come from and I am so grateful for where we are. I have hope for more miracles, greater joys, challenging periods of new growth, and exciting surprises.

Thank You God, for the incredible gift of watching my kids, and so many others just like them, grow and love.

Gia, Brooke, and Ryan...miracles.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

You Have Another Sister!

I love roller coasters. I check and recheck the safety strap and shoulder harness as the car gets pulled higher and higher, moving slowly up to the top of the coaster mountain. Every once in a while the wheels on the under carriage catch and the car lurches slightly. Then you realize…what goes up, must come down! Aaaaahhhhh!

I’ve written about some of the deep dives and scary turns, but on this Wild Ride Wednesday I’ll tell about a surprising high in my life—a mountaintop high.

My phone rang. It was my dad’s voice on the other end of the line. I didn’t hear from my father very often – maybe a couple times a month – and a phone call usually meant he had something on his mind.

“I’d like you to come over to see me. Can you stop by the store some time tomorrow?”


My dad was a checker at the Safeway grocery store. He’d had that job for as far back as I could remember.

I walked up to the front door of the large market and the automatic double doors slid open. Dad was working the middle lane and was ringing up a costumer’s order when I walked up to the end of the counter. Dad gave the woman her change and told her to have a great day. He looked at me.

“You have another sister.”

My parents had been divorced for about 22 years, and Dad had had a girlfriend or two in the ensuing years. The fact that he might have fathered another child didn’t surprise me. I was, however, surprised by her age.

“How old is she?” I felt a wave of curiosity wash over me like a warm shower.

“She’s nine.”

Nine years old? Was he kidding? My oldest son was nine!

Later that afternoon I went to Dad’s house. He went to his closet and brought out a shoebox filled with neatly folded letters, holiday cards, and lots of photographs. He took out a picture and put it in my hand. The smiling little girl was my sister!

I immediately fell in the love with the blue-eyed girl with long dark blond curls. My mommy heart and my sister love came spilling out. She looked just like my kids and my siblings. She could have walked in the door at that moment and I would have known she was family. Her mom and dad had done a fabulous job of keeping my dad in the loop as his little girl grew over the years.

Megan always knew she was adopted and now that she was 9 ½ years old she was asking questions about her biological family. The adoption agency had contacted Dad and asked him for more info. He asked me to write a letter.

I wrote to Megan’s mom and told her all about the family. From my dad’s branch of the family tree, Megan had three older sisters and an older brother. She also had nieces and nephews that were just about the same age as her. It turned out, in fact, that Megan and my son Dallas had been due the same week in late 1984. Megan was born a few weeks earlier than she was expected, and therefore she was three weeks older than her oldest nephew.

Before long I was getting to know my sister’s adoptive mom over a lovely lunch at the Peppermill Restaurant in Fresno. On a beautiful summer day in 1994 Tina, Sheila, Robby, and I met our baby sister. We’ve had the privilege of being a part of her life ever since.

Each morning we wake up thinking it’s just going to be another day, but we never know what surprise might be around the next sharp turn of the wild ride that is life.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Do you have a mom?

I love reading the writings of Armen Bacon. She is an occasional contributor to the Opinion/Valley Voices section of the Fresno Bee. I identify with her. Like me, she’s a wife, mom, and educator.

I identify with Armen’s struggles and challenges. Six years ago my son was a drug addict who was living on the streets after having been kicked out of the house by my husband and me. For months and months we lived in fear of getting the dreaded phone call telling us our son had lost his battle with drugs.

Six years ago Armen Bacon and her husband were on the receiving end of just such a phone call. Their son, Alex was dead.

Since that sad day, she has written eloquently and from the heart about her journey. Whether she’s writing about her mom, her children, her home, or our shared hometown, she never fails to stir my heart.

Yesterday she wrote about a raggedy young man she came upon while in the drive through of a fast-food restaurant. He asked her for a dollar so he could get some Top Ramen.

“Do you have a mom?” Armen asked the lost boy. “I bet your mom misses you.”

Oh, I can so relate to that conversation.

I know that many of you see these young panhandlers nearly every day. Their clothes fit loosely on their skinny frail bodies. They have dirty fingernails and unwashed hair. Some of you want to turn away, while others of you challenge the street urchins to “get a job!” Sometimes you slip them a few silver coins, a crumpled bill, or a cheeseburger.

I am so grateful to the people who might have helped my kids when they were lost. I know that some of the money was spent on drugs, but I also know that your kindness touched my child’s heart—even if just for a moment. Maybe, just maybe, you said a sweet word or gave a gentle smile to my son or daughter. I will never know you, but I am thankful that you took the time to show concern to my child.

That dirty young man you see on the street corner probably has a mom whose heart is heavy with worry and fear. She hopes to never get “the call”. Maybe your kind word or deed is the very nudge that boy needs to send him back home, or to a safe place.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Please Don't

For this Wild Ride Wednesday, I'm going back to when I was 18 years old and a senior in high school. It was the night I learned to say "no"--the night I learned I had the power over my circumstances.

I went to a Christian high school. We had “banquets” instead of dances and proms. Good Christian teens don’t dance!

I invited a tall dark handsome young man to be my date to my Senior Banquet. We’d known one another for about a year, he was a good friend, and we really enjoyed hanging out together. There were definitely sparks and chemistry between us.

I wore a lovely “wrap” style dress to the banquet. The fabric was white and covered with teal and green flowers. The dress was soft and it swished slightly from side to side when I walked. I loved that dress. My date wore a gray suit, complete with a matching vest, a white shirt, and a teal tie. I’m tellin’ you…we were adorable.

I don’t remember what we ate that night or what the entertainment was, although I suspect we watched a Disney movie. Maybe we watched, “That #@*% Cat”. That’s right—I went to a school that bleeped out the word “darn”. I do remember we had a really fun evening and I relished the fact that I had the cutest guy in the room on my arm.

Banquets end fairly early and when it was over we had an hour or so to kill before my curfew. I lived with my family across the street from an elementary school way out in the country, so instead of pulling into our driveway, we pulled into the dark and empty parking lot of the school. We held hands and began walking and talking. We laughed as we strolled the halls, and then under the trees.

We found a soft dry spot on the lawn and he kissed me. It was terribly romantic.

In the blink of eye something changed and things went from sweet and romantic to frenetic and out of control. I remember being surprised and confused. I felt his hand on my chest and I heard the sound of ripping fabric. My dress was open.


My own voice sounded far away and small.

“Please don’t do this.”

It all had escalated so quickly, and now I was seeing the light come back into my date’s eyes. He stopped.

I don’t remember speaking as he walked me across the street to my front door and then he walked to his car. He drove away.

I know that it would not have been okay for him to hurt me that night, but I learned a valuable lesson. I had the power to keep myself safe. I learned to never, ever allow myself to be in a place I didn’t want to be. Nothing would ever happen that I didn’t want to happen. I had the power.

Three weeks went by and the guy I had felt so close to never called. It hurt. Then one day I was driving down the road and I saw him. He told me to pull over. I did. I got out of my car and walked towards him and he walked to me. He put his arms around me and whispered, “You should hate me. I’m so, so sorry.”

“I forgive you.”

I believe he learned a valuable lesson about self-control as well. I know he grew to be a wonderful man.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Fear of Vacation Planning!

Confession…I have a fear of vacation planning!

Fear can be a crippling thing. Some pastors will tell you that ALL fear is sin, because fear indicates a lack of faith. Jesus rebuked his disciples for their lack of faith.

When my kids were lost in their drug addiction, I woke up every morning afraid that this would be the day I’d get “the call”—word that my child had been found dead or dying. Was my fear a manifestation of my lack of faith, or was it simply the natural instinct to get out of a dangerous situation?

If a ravenous lion was chasing me, I assure you I would not stand before it and say, “I have faith you will not eat me”. I guarantee you that my fear would light a fire under my feet and I would RUN!

For me, the fear of the drugs and what they were doing to my family was very real and it wasn’t my lack of faith that spurred me to fight. It was the very real dangers that got me out of bed every day and drove me into battle.

I’ve developed some rather irrational fears over the years, but in my defense, they are a result of conditioning. A ringing phone causes my heart to skip a beat, my blood pressure to rise, and fear kicks in. I really hate making phone calls. The counselors have told me it was all those years of getting bad news calls about my kids and my fear of rejection (which I’ve had a lot of) that has caused those fears.

The fear that has raised its ugly head most recently, is my fear of planning a vacation. Sounds like an irrational fear, doesn’t it?

This is the deal, every single time Tom and I have planned a vacation, stuff happens and a dark cloud hovers over what should be a time of peace and relaxation.

Once we planned an after-Christmas trip to San Francisco—just the two of us. We were kinda poor back then and we saved money for a few months. A couple of days before Christmas we hid all our kids’ presents in the trunk of our car—away from prying eyes. On Christmas Eve morning we woke to find our car had been stolen! The gifts! They were gone.

We took the money we’d saved for our trip, and went out and bought all new presents for our kids.

One Summer Tom and I planned to take our first cruise. I LOVE the water and I was so looking forward to cruising. A few days before our scheduled departure our daughter ran away from home and we cancelled our trip (of course). We would never have left knowing our daughter was in trouble.

A few vacations have been cancelled or shortened because of car problems, unexpected bills, or kid issues. Last year just before we left for a much-anticipated trip to New Orleans, I was fired from my part-time job.

I’m afraid to map out a vacation. I guess I feel that vacation planning will invite trouble. Superstitious? Maybe a bit, but every respite we’ve ever planned has been thwarted in one way or another.

So, here we are—vacation 2010. Tom is two days into a six-week sabbatical. We’ve been saving money and we are really looking forward to a trip to someplace we’ve never been. But…

The refrigerator died, two cars are broken, and kids are in need. The contract for my second part-time job ended last month, so money is VERY tight.

I’m gonna be real transparent here—this sucks. I know life is not fair, but this is so not fair. Don’t we deserve a vacation?

When Gia went to rehab, we had a few friends whose kids were also in trouble. Every one of them found people who helped them pay the massive cost of saving their child’s life. Some of them got help from the school district, some were helped by the state, and others received donations from their church. We asked for help, but we were denied, and we are still paying that large debt.

Now, don’t misquote here, I would give up EVERYTHING to save my sons or daughter. There is NO price too high to save the life of a child! My Lord gave up his very life for me, and I would happily die if it meant my child would live.

It just makes me sad that despite our faithful giving of tithe, offering, talent, and time, the church wouldn’t help us in our hour of need. My human heart feels sad about that.

I have friends who, like us, have a son who was in prison. Now that he’s been release, people are lining up to give him a job. But my son—he can’t get a break. Here’s a bit more authenticity comin’ at ya…why them and not us?

Life can be overwhelming and going it alone is hard. Our challenges have caused us to lose a few friends, and others have distanced themselves from us as if we are contagious.

The upside, of course, is that my family is closer than ever as we really do count on one another. We know that when all else fails, we are there for each other.

We’ll be okay. The fear will subside. We’ll keep going just like we always have. We are survivors.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Thank You For Never Giving Up

I’ve received a plethora of gifts from my kids over the past 25+ years. They’ve given me pillows, coupon books good for clean rooms and made beds, jewelry, trinkets, stuff for my garden, CD’s, and books. My daughter has painted a couple of pictures just for me.

I have valued and appreciated every Mother’s Day, Christmas, Birthday, Anniversary, and Just Because gift my kids have ever given me.

I think, however, that all moms agree that the most precious gifts one can receive from our kids cannot be tied with a bow. They are words—words from the heart.

My daughter, Gia stopped by yesterday to do her laundry. What will we do when she can afford to get her own washing machine? We’ll never see her!

But I digress.

Gia gave me a great gift yesterday—she told me how grateful she was that I never gave up on her. She has told me this before, but I need to hear it again every once in a while, and I think she needs to say it. She usually finds a new context in which to frame her appreciation.

“Dallas and I have discussed this so many times. We both know that if you’d given up on us, we’d be dead.”

I know how exhausting it is to raise strong-willed kids. I rarely had days all to myself when we were raising Dallas, Drew, and Giana, but I sure appreciated every millisecond of “me” time. And when the strong-willed child becomes a drug addict, a mom’s road becomes more harrowing and unpredictable. She never stops worrying and praying, and somewhere along the way—she forgets to sleep!

I know moms in that situation and I always encourage them to never give up. I KNOW it’s easier said than done—especially when the road is longer and more treacherous than they ever imagined it would be!

Giana told me, “If you had ever said, ‘I give up on you’, I would’ve shouted ‘FREEDOM’, and I would’ve been gone!” She went on, “and today, I’d be dead”.

Wow! Those words make all the sleepless nights, tear-stained pillows, desperate pleas to God, financial investment, and personal loss SO worth it!

I’ll never forget sitting in front of the Junior High pastor at our church when Dallas was 14. He was telling me that Dallas was “too hard” and he told me my son wasn’t welcomed back at church. “I’ve given him chance after chance”, the pastor said, “and all he does is bite me in the butt.”

I responded, “Is that what Jesus says?”

“Don’t throw Jesus in my face!”

That pastor was one of many tired teachers who gave up on my son. Tom and I, however, never surrendered, as we believed the battle would be won.

I know how hard the journey is for the mom (and dad) of a prodigal. I know how tough it is to raise a strong-willed child, or a special needs child. But the journey IS worth it!

Don’t give up. Never give up!

Dallas, Drew, Giana…I LOVE YOU GUYS!!