Tuesday, August 31, 2010


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.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Bucket List

A bucket list is a catalog of all the things we want to do before we die—before we kick the bucket.

I’m not even 50 years old yet. In fact, 50 is a long ways off! It’s never too soon to assemble that bucket list because fulfilling some of my long-held dreams may take a while. I figure it’s time to get on it.

Two days ago I was able to check something off my bucket list. The event, in fact, inspired me to go ahead and start building my wish list. Tom and I snorkeled off the coast of Maui, Hawaii.

We boarded a boat and sat up top in the fresh air. Our first stop was Molokini Crater.

The waters surrounding the Crater are warm, blue, and crystal clear. The clusters of coral and the schools of fish seemed close enough to touch. It was gorgeous.

After spending a glorious hour in the water, we climbed back onto the boat and headed to the small island of Lanai. The beautiful privately-owned island is located West of Maui and is home to around 2,000 people.

We docked in a magnificent cove, surrounded by majestic cliffs. We once again donned our snorkel gear and jumped into the water. We spent another hour or so in the warm enchanting waters.

I am a water girl for sure. I could happily swim every single day of the year. Oh to live in a house with a swimming pool, or better yet—an ocean outside my front door!