Wednesday, November 24, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Gateway Drugs-Are We Giving Kids The Keys?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Ma'am, Are You Okay?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He knocked harder. I started to cry.

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

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

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

“I’m going to work”, I said.

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

Over my dead body!

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

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

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

“Ma’am, are you okay?”

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Please Don't Let My Baby Die

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He walked into the bedroom and slammed the door.

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

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

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

I'm no Pollyanna

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Unexpected Heroes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 1, 2010

Do I Belong?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was hurt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do I belong?