Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Lessons From Dorothy

Someone told me this past weekend that I reminded them of Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. Like the little girl with the ruby slippers, a tornado ripped through our life, picked up our little family, and dropped us smack-dab in the middle of unfamiliar territory. Unlike the destructive Kansas storm, our tornado was not an act of nature, but rather was human caused.

Dorothy wasn't always comfortable on her yellow brick road, and many times she was afraid. But in the end, she learned valuable lessons and was grateful for the experience.

I want to say that I will forever appreciate the lessons I learned and the new friendships I forged during the oft-difficult journey. That, however, doesn't change the fact that our tornado was spawned by careless and thoughtless human beings. Our story is a cautionary tale to be sure.

I've watched as news of the Pennsylvania Sate sex scandal has dominated the news for the past few months. So many people - innocent people - have been caught up in the wake left by the evil actions (allegedly) of one sick man. My heart aches for the victims, their families, other coaches, students, and unsuspecting fans. I'm reminded, once again, that as we travel through life, we are like vessels on the sea. We leave behind wakes and waves that affect everyone with whom we share the journey.

Our devastating tornado hit when three people - three so-called friends - made assumptions, told lies, and stole the reputation I'd worked hard to build. I have no idea what motivates people to gossip and lie with the purpose of undermining another person. I do know, however, that psychologists will tell you that when they see this behavior, it most often stems from jealousies, insecurities, or just plain vengeance.

Our children were 11, 12, and 14 when we were literally kicked out of the church in which they'd been dedicated and raised. We'd made the decision to attend the same church as Tom's family so our children could be surrounded by aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and an untold number of extended family members. They loved Sunday School, kids choir, and the many and varied mid-week activities. I worked at the church, volunteered in a number of areas, and used my gifts and talents to begin a ministry through which I shared my heart.

And then the tornado hit.

I was accused of saying things I never said and doing things I never did. The fact I worked for the theatre was particularly frowned upon. Then, my 14 year old son was "too hard" for the Junior High pastor to deal with. I was told to take my family and leave the church we loved.

"It's time your family goes."

The world as we knew it changed. A tornado ripped it apart, and we were caught up in the wake left by actions, deeds, and the bad choices of others.

Even if the accusations were true, where was the grace and forgiveness that Christians preach about? Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. But extend that same grace to another wretch? No way!

All my children knew was that they were no longer allowed to see any of their church friends. I tried to be strong, but overnight I lost every single friend with whom I'd shared fourteen years! The security of relationship was gone and I was dropped in the middle of an unfamiliar world.

Our church wasn't just a building with a threshold we crossed once or twice a week, it was our family, our support, our friends….a place called home. I cried every day for a whole year. It would be three years before I could drive by the church without crying.

I would never have betrayed my friends as they betrayed me. I don't think they'll ever understand the grave impact they had on my family.

Is it any wonder our children made the choice to walk away from church, from Christianity, and from God? Like me, our kids were left with empty holes and deep sadness. For a time they used drugs to fill those empty places. Why would they look to God or church when it was God's people - The Church - that caused excruciating pain?

I looked for forgiveness and grace from the people I'd been raised to believe would be the first to extend it, but I didn't find it there. I did find it, however, in the most unexpected of places.

I found unconditional love when it was showered on my daughter by the rehab counselors - most of whom belonged to a religious sect I'd been taught to fear. If I was Dorothy, then they were the lion that turned out to be our healer and protector. We found grace in the person of a tough parole officer who was a tin man with a heart of compassion. Parents of prodigals are like scarecrows - we stand watch over our children, but are sometimes unable to scare away the dark forces that come pecking away at their very souls. We are smart enough to know we can't do it on our own, and I'm blessed to now be surrounded by amazingly wise scarecrow parents.

Yes, I guess I'm a bit like Dorothy. I woke up in a scary strange land surrounded by people whose words and ways I didn't understand. I was initially alone in the dark place, but along the road I met people who showed me the way and who dared to walk with me. When the yellow brick road brought Tom and I back home, we found that no one else would ever really know what we'd seen or what we'd been through. Not even Uncle Henry or Auntie Em. There's no way we'll ever find the words to help them understand.

I know the advantages of moving forward and never looking back, but I implore you to stop occasionally, look behind you, and take note of all you're leaving in your wake. Are you leaving paths of peace, love, and comfort, or are you cutting deep swaths of drama, gossip fueled angst, hurt feelings, broken hearts, wounded trust, physical pain, or destroyed reputations?

Please, please take a moment to reflect back - back on the lives you've touched. Are people better for having known you? Are friends and strangers stronger, healthier, happier, and braver because of the moments, hours, days, or years they spent sharing life with you?

Are there people like us in your past - human beings you could've been kinder to, shown grace and compassion for, or perhaps could've stopped to help now and again? Did your gossip - no matter how true you thought your words might have been - cause someone else to judge a person harshly without benefit of the whole picture?

Please take a moment to look back. It's never too late to help clean up from a tornado you might have spawned. It's never to late to say, I'm sorry, Please forgive me, or I was wrong. Learn from our long and painful journey. We are a cautionary tale from which I pray others learn lessons about grace, compassion, and forgiveness.

I'll take a moment to look back.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

How's The Little Missionary?

My friend's granddaughter got into a bit of trouble last week. At first she was disappointed and had no idea what to say to her frustrated and angry daughter – the girl's mama. Then....she thought of me.

Not long ago I was talking with my friend about my own little girl. In seven short years she's gone from troubled teen-ager to South African missionary.

So, Grandma encouraged her daughter with these words, "Your little girl is being prepped to be out in the mission field."

And now whenever my friend talks to her daughter she asks, "how's the little missionary?"

I love this story :)

All things DO work together for good.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Shopping With ME-Monsters

I might never share a word of personal conversation with my fellow Winco grocery shoppers, but I learn more about them during those excursions than I ever wanted to know.

Here are some of my observations:

Some of you are ME-monsters. You live and shop in ME-ville and you don't know the meaning of "share the road". You drive your super-sized shopping carts just as you drive your ginormous SUVs–like you're the only one on the road/aisle.

Is it really so hard to be courteous? Don't park your cart in the middle of the aisle then step away to search for your favorite brand of mayonnaise. You wouldn't stop your car in the middle of the street when you want to check out a roadside stand. Keep moving or get out of the way.

Okay, sidebar about the size of the shopping carts. It seems these days that everything is super-sized. Every once in a while I go into a store with old-school carts, and they are tiny. I mean, they are oh-look-at-the-toy-shopping-carts small. Back in the day, burgers were smaller, fries came in little packages, store buggies were diminutive, and fewer people were morbidly obese. Perhaps there's a connection *gasp*.

Back at Winco. Listen, when you dip your dirty hands in the bulk bins and stuff your face with snack booty, you are stealing. Yes...STEALING! It's also gross when you lick the orange residue from your fingers after eating cheese curls, then grab a handful of bulk animal cookies and leave behind your germs and boogies for the rest of us.

Oh, and parking your kids at the bulk bins while you shop is a very dangerous habit. I can't believe you encourage shoplifting AND leave your child unattended. Yes, I'm the mean woman who told your son he was stealing and that he should go find his mom.

The motorized shopping carts are NOT toys, and the store aisle is not your personal raceway.

I watch some of you move through the aisles painfully and slowly. You lean on your cart as you push it along because your legs want to buckle under the enormous weight of your body. I look in your carts and I see boxed and canned food, which are full of salt, preservatives, artificial flavors, and empty calories. You buy crackers, cookies, white bread, and sugar-laden sodas. The fresh fruits and vegetables are not as "fresh" as they could be, but we are blessed to have access to inexpensive healthy food. We can all make better choices.

Next time you go grocery shopping, leave the ME-monster at home. Keep moving, or get out of the way.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tap Dancing to South Africa

I've written before about being chastised by the church for working in the theatre. I was even denied reconciliation because of my connection to the entertainment genre'.

My theatre family, however, has always been quick to recognize a need and to respond. I could not love and appreciate you more!

When my daughter was missing, it was my actor friends who saw to it that hundreds of "missing child" posters were plastered all over the city. Now Giana will be teaching tap dance lessons to South African orphans–and theatre moms and kids have once again shown their love and support. They are my shoe heroes!

My dear theatre family, you have blown me away with your resourcefulness and generosity. Together, you donated over 40 pair of new and used tap shoes (and another 20+ pair of jazz and ballet shoes).

So, to Lori, Lynn, Melissa, Tina, Sonja, Nadine, Collin, and Joseph, thank you so much for your donation of time, resources, and SHOES! Your kindness reaches to the other side of the world to the hearts and feet of God's kids in South Africa. How cool is that!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


On Sunday Pastor Dale taught on Daniel – a man of consistent and continual integrity. I've been thinking about integrity ever since.

That word was used a whole bunch when Giana was in rehab. The girls were encouraged to hold one another accountable by simply saying the word "integrity" when they suspected a teammate of being less than honest.

When Gia got home from rehab, I remember a time when I suspected her of lying to me. I looked at her and said, "Integrity". "Oh Mom," she retorted, "I heard that word every day for seven months. Do me a favor and find another word." I've always loved that she feels free to speak her mind around me.


adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.
the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished: to preserve the integrity of the empire.
a sound, unimpaired, or perfect condition: the integrity of a ship's hull.

We often say that integrity is being the same person – whether we're in public, or alone in our own home. As parents we strive to teach and model integrity. I remember being in a store one time when I saw a mom with a small child in tow. She was attempting to cash a personal check. The clerk was trying to tell her that her account had been flagged. Apparently she had, at one time, written a check that bounced. Hey, it happens.

The mom said, "My check is good. I'm a mother – I wouldn't lie." It occurred to me that she had the opportunity to model integrity for her child. Perhaps her check WAS good, but she had to pay the consequences of a mistake she'd made in the past.

As parents, I think we sometimes bully our children into becoming adults who lack honest integrity. Consider this scenario: One of your three kids leaves an artful masterpiece on your leather sofa, and they used a permanent marker for a brush! You march into their playroom and at the top of your lungs you bellow, "Who did this?"

The children cower into the corner.

"Okay, whoever destroyed my couch will tell the truth, or I'll call Daddy and we'll cancel our trip to Disneyland! You have five minutes to confess."

The kids discuss and commiserate and accuse. Perhaps they're all guilty, or maybe there's only one budding Picasso in the group. For whatever reason, however, the child with the artistic (albeit destructive) bent fails to come forward. So, one of the innocent kids throws up his hands, and in exasperation proclaims, "I'll say I did it. Geez! I don't know about you, but I WANT to go to Disneyland."

I was that kid. I took responsibility for a lot of stuff I didn't need to take ownership of. I naively believed that the truth would eventually win out. But here's the problem – I set myself up to be the fall guy. Even when I was innocent, I willingly took the blame, and others were eager to dump it on me.

Several years ago, a boss wrongly accused me. He was sure of my misdeeds because others had told him it was so.

"Why," I inquired, "do you believe them and not me?"

"Because," he replied, "they are people of integrity."

But wait, didn't the fact that these people came to him with gossip automatically mean they LACKED integrity?

Instead of loudly proclaiming my innocence, my naivete' once again prevailed, and I believed the truth would eventually find it's way free. I would be exonerated. It didn't happen that way. I had been groomed to take responsibility – even when it wasn't mine to take.

Look, I'm not perfect. I've made tons of mistakes. I don't hide my skeletons, I dance with them. I take ownership of my wrongs and I've finally learned to stand up to bullies. And, like Daniel, I've been thrown in the lions' den. But guess what? I survived.

I believe having integrity means acknowledging when I've messed up, absolutely. But, does a person of integrity need to carry the burden of someone else's weaknesses and lies?

Hmmmm.... It's food for thought, isn't it.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Makeup, Makeup!

As Tom and I arrived in Lake Tahoe last week, we stopped by the local Safeway to buy a few groceries so we could cook at the cabin. We'd left home that morning later than we'd hoped and traffic moved slowly. It had been a long, hot several hours.

I rarely wear makeup when we travel, and this day was no exception. I mean, no one's lookin' at me except Tom–and he's seen me looking far worse.

So, there we are–standing in the snack aisle looking at microwave popcorn options and I hear, "Hi Liz!" I slowly turn my head as a thousand thoughts run through my mind. Please oh please oh please let there be another Liz standing nearby. Nope...I was the one! The married couple standing to my left go to my mom's church. I hadn't seen them in many years, but I recognized them, of course. Then the man called out, "Hey Gregg, come here."

Around the corner walks a guy I hadn't seen since high school. Worse, he's a guy I once had a crush on - and me without makeup! Aaaaahhhhh!!!!

Gregg introduced me to his lovely wife, and I introduced Tom. They were in Safeway for the exact reason that we were, and they too had just arrived in town. What are the odds? We chatted a bit and wished one another a great vacation.

This morning I was at the gym. Call me crazy, but I don't wear makeup there either! An adorable older woman (who was wearing makeup) stepped off the treadmill and said, "You've got a twin that works at Roger Rocka's Dinner Theatre."

"Well", I said, "I think I'm her. But, you probably don't recognize me without makeup." She's a fan of the theatre and she loved The Dixie Swim Club.

You know, there was a time when I rarely farded (look it up) before running errands. I'm thinkin' those days are over. I'm almost 50 years old and, well...I look better when I glam up a bit.

From now on, if you're looking for me at the gym–I'll be the one wearing lipstick, mascara, and under-eye concealer.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Quicksand of Pride

Oh how sad it is that so many relationships get and stay stuck. They get mired down in the quicksand that is pride, jealousy, unforgiveness, and misunderstanding.
People move on, but relationships can remain interminably stuck.

I wrote a post several months ago about bullies. A friend of mine was buying gas when an almost unrecognizable man from his past walked up to him and apologized for the way he bullied my friend in junior high school.

My friend was relieved and grateful for the man’s kind words. Almost immediately, the old ugly relationship became unstuck. Two grown men were finally able to heal the brokenness and send the old hurts packing.

I recently saw one of my old bullies. We’re grown women – she’s a grandmother – but the relationship is stuck in a muddy swamp of judgmental condemnation. I’m courteous when I’m around her, but I can still see her cold eyes and her gnarled finger pointing at me from across the table during a conversation many years ago.

You’re weak.

You’re not a good friend.

You’re jealous.

God has graciously allowed my family and me to walk through incredible fires. I didn’t come out unscathed, but I learned many things about myself. I discovered I’m stronger than I could ever have imagined and I’m a generous and steadfast friend.

I learned that when we unfairly accuse others of jealousies and hidden sins, we’re actually revealing more about the state of our own hearts. When we point fingers at others, we shine spotlights on our own darkness.

I recently spent a bit of time with another old friend. It’s been years since I had a real conversation with him and the friendship ended badly when he called me a liar. While he and I are both cordial, the relationship is stuck.

Does he still believe I lied? Does he see me for who I really am? Does he care about what my family has been through—the miracles we’ve seen, or the life lessons we can share with the world?
I never lied to him – not ever.

People grow, change, move, mature, and evolve, but pride keeps relationships stuck.

So, how do we find our way out of the gunk and goop that keeps relationships in a bad place? Well, we don’t “find” our way out of it. We FIGHT our way out. We have to confront, tell the truth, chase away misunderstandings, and break the chains of pride and preconceived judgments so that we can be free.
I’m exhausted from trying to single handily pull relationships out of quicksand. I’m not even sure why it’s important to me, when it’s painfully obvious that it’s not important to those who insist on remaining buried in the past.

That’s not true. I know why it’s important to me. I value what once was, and losing you still hurts.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Making Waves

Tom and I spent this past weekend in Zephyr Cove, Nevada where we lazed away the days on the banks of Lake Tahoe. The water is cold and crisp, but that couldn’t keep me from hours of swimming in the clear blue water. Tom isn’t quite as adventuresome as I am.

In my next life I want to be a mermaid.

Labor Day traditionally marks the end of summer, and people all over the country did exactly what we did – they donned their Speedo, life vest, and snorkels, and headed out to bodies of water to swim, boat, ski, and parasail.

Did I just say “Speedo”? FYI, there is NEVER a good time to wear one of those skimpy hey-you-forgot-to-look-in-a-mirror swimsuits. But I digress.

During the off-season, Lake Tahoe is glass smooth and as still and quiet as a kitten’s purr. But on this busy holiday weekend the many boats and Jet Skis created thousands of water wakes and waves that literally pounded the shore with loud urgency.

Being on the lake’s edge made me think about the oft given admonition to “stop making waves”. I know people who would rather chew off their own toes than rock the boat of life. They are compliant, quiet, and courteous at any cost. Others take great pride and pleasure in raising every ruckus that comes along. For these people, making waves in an otherwise calm journey is what keeps life interesting.

Though the boaters created whitecaps and swells that rocked the swimmers and then slammed into the rocky shore, the wave makers themselves were unfazed by the rolling waters. They went about cutting their path through the ice-cold water – laughing as they celebrated the end of the hot summer.

Some people are like that. They zip through life, rocking boats, and making waves just because they can. They enjoy creating unnecessary uprisings, and they rarely deal with the consequences of their actions.

Look, I don’t want to discourage anyone from rocking the boat to bring about healthy change. Sometimes we have to make waves in order to wake the sleepers on life’s beach.

I want to make waves with a purpose. I want to rock the boat of apathy and create opportunities for dialogue, problem solving, and world changing. I don’t want to be a speed racer who tears through life’s waters with no regard for how my actions affect those with whom I share the journey.

I realize that some of you are floating through life on tiny little rafts and it wouldn’t take more than a ripple to knock you into icy waters. For you, simply asking “why?” or expressing an opinion that differs from yours is enough to blow the air right out of your river rat. You don’t want anyone rockin’ your boat.

The truth is, however, there are wave makers all around us. I want to be someone who rocks the boat of indifference, prejudice, and intolerance, and fights against small-minded apathy. I’ll keep my eye on the shore, and I’ll tend to those I might accidently shake up, but I can’t promise that I won’t rock a few more boats.

I do pray my motives are good and purpose-filled. As I speed through life, I hope I leave behind waves of hope, change, courage, and bold endurance.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Elephant and the Blind Men

The other day I was out for a walk, and the words of a poem I once read popped into my head. Now, I haven't thought about the rhyme in many years. I learned the poem in (I think) the fourth grade at Tarpey Elementary School, and I'm pretty sure I haven't seen it since.

Perhaps you know the composition. It's about six blind men from Indostan (the former name of an area of South Asia) who all encounter different parts of the same elephant. Since none of the men can see, they are dependent upon their sense of touch to gain understanding of their surroundings. The man who feels the side of the elephant proclaims, "God bless me, but the elephant is very like a wall!"

The second man feels the sharp tusk and declares, "Tis wonder of an elephant is very like a spear!" The other men are equally sure their observations are true descriptions of the mammal. Depending on what part of the animal the men are touching, it is "a snake", "a tree", "a fan", or "a rope".

Each of the six men were more positive than the one before them that they were right, and each made his point sure and strong. The poem ends with this line: "Though each was partly in the right, and all were in the wrong!"

I wrote a post a few weeks ago about how small, but false accusations, have devastating effects.

I don't blame the people who passed judgment on me, as they were–for the most part–operating in good faith. They BELIEVED they had all the necessary facts to make an assessment of my family, my life, and me.

I wonder if the six men of Indostan were ever able to set aside insistent pride and "see" the elephant for what it truly was.

Several months ago I sat in a room with Tom, a counselor, and a family member with whom we all hoped to reconcile. The counselor asked me to tell my story. Oh, I'd done this so many times before and I ached at the thought of "living" through the sadness again. But I did.

I cried.

The therapist turned to the family member. "What is your response?"

My relative smiled.

"Liz..." She paused. She smiled.

"Liz..." Pause. Smile. "...embellishes."

I was devastated.

The story elements she thought I "embellished" were completely unembellished! She, however, chose to see only pieces of the whole picture and therefore her picture was VERY different from mine.

Let's all work together to see and appreciate all the parts of the elephant. The big picture might be far more cool and impressive than a small snapshot of a portion could ever be on its own.

"Though each was partly in the right, and all were in the wrong!"

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Hope and Open Doors

Okay...I know, I know - I'm transparent to a fault. I accept that the vast majority of the world doesn't give a gnat's whisker about my life.

So why take the time to write this blog?

I write to remind myself of the many miracles that happen every day and around every corner. I write to encourage you who are lost and broken that wholeness can be yours. I am ETERNALLY optimistic and hopeful for restoration, reconciliation, healing, discovery, love, and goodness.

Some of our hard times have been uglier than most. I've seen the worst that humanity offers - drug dealers, hypocrites, liars, cheaters, manipulators, heartbreakers, and joy stealers. I've seen some of that ugly in the reflection of my own mirror.

This is what I know...God is still in the business of miracles!

On January 1, 2011, I had a sense that this year was going to be unlike any other for the Stoeckel Family. I told Tom and the kids that things were going to explode in a positive way, and that by the end of December, we'd all find ourselves in places we never expected - in a good way!

Okay, does all this sound a bit weird? You all have an inner voice that gives you direction and encouragement. For some of you it's God or spirituality, and some of you look to other resources for that inner peace. Giana said she keeps feeling that "summer will be awesome" and that changes would start during this season. It's only July 19, and I'm already seeing that "prophecy" coming true.

The doors of opportunity have flung open and Gia will soon be heading to South Africa to serve in long-term ministry. Yesterday good fortune smiled on Dallas, and he's heading to LA to start a new creative venture. Drew will soon be heading out on his second musical tour of the year. These are all amazing gifts to my kids - favors that were but dreams at the beginning of the year.

And me...I find myself working with people who've had a piece of my heart and a chunk of my love for many years, but from whom I've been estranged. Are things perfect? Of course not - we're human! Am I hopeful? YES!

Do I believe in restoration, miracles, recovery, and healing? Of course I do. If I didn't, I wouldn't pray for it on a daily basis!

There's still five more months to go before we see the end of this year. I still "see" more doors opening, greater good still to come, and surprising fabulousness on the horizon.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Small Earthquakes Cause Devastating Tsunamis

I wish I could ignore the hurtful mean things that have been said about me. I wish I could filter out the false accusations. But, this is the deal - it kills my spirit knowing that there are people who believe I'm a hater and a hurter.

Granted, there are only a few people who are guilty of these absurdities, but those few have caused major waves of destruction that I have to deal with. Those foolish humans are like tiny earthquakes that shake a few walls, crack a couple of windows, knock a hundred or so cans off wobbly shelves, then go on their merry way. The problem is, however, they've set into motion all the elements needed for a devastating tsunami.

Tsunamis destroy far more property and lives than the initial earthquake could ever imagine tearing apart. Whole families, villages, cities, and hillsides are swallowed by tsunamis.

On March 11, 2011 the largest earthquake to hit Japan in 150 years triggered a mighty tsunami that devoured cars, houses, planes, and buildings. As of April 25, 2011 more than 14,000 people were dead and nearly 12,000 were still missing. The quake was hard enough, but the aftermath and the destruction done by the behemoth water monster was far worse.

Small decisions have big consequences.

Accusation: I was jealous of a good friend.
Truth: Not even a little. I loved her. I miss her.

Accusation: My children smoked pot in my house while we went to the store.
Truth: They're not that stupid. Tom and I were very smart parents and we were working with counselors at the time. The plan was to get through the holidays. The worse thing you can do when dealing with addicts is to accuse them unfairly. They just get indignant and become more secretive. That accusation caused a severe setback to recovery and things got much worse before they got better. It was unfair.

Accusation: I didn't want to work with a particular woman if she was in charge.
Truth: This one started because a few words were misheard. I love and respect every chance to be part of a team. I really don't care what my role is. Just working with talented people is a gift. There are no small roles, only small actors. I live by that mantra.

Accusation: Asking questions of people in authority meant I was on a "dangerous path".
Truth: The act of asking questions empowers individuals (maybe that's what they were afraid of) and it strengthens the team. It provides the information needed to grow and change.

Accusation: I lied and manipulated to get my way.
Truth: Since I never said the things I was accused of saying, this can't be true. BTW, look again at the answer a few lines before. I would rather be a respected member of a team, then a person who always gets her way.

Accusation: I've walked away from the Lord.
Truth: Jesus is my best friend. I've had doors slammed on my face and friends cut me off because they don't want any part of the myriad of challenges we've had to face. Jesus has never made an accusation against me, and we're tighter than ever.

Accusation: I brainwashed my son against his bio-dad.
Truth: I ALWAYS told Dallas his dad loved him, but was unable to be a part of our lives because of his choices. I didn't share details about drug addiction and abuse until Dallas was an adult battling his own addictions. The door was always open. Always.

Look, I'm not perfect. I don't even try to hide that fact.

Some relationships are just plain toxic, and I've put distance between those persons and me. Instead of making assumptions about me and my choices, why don't you ask me a few simple questions? Maybe, just maybe, I have good and healthy reasons for doing as I do. Instead of seeking out "friends" to talk to about me, talk to me.

Scientists predict that in March of 2014 a giant debris field from the massive Japanese tsunami will wash up on the shores of California. Three years after the major event, the garbage will still be evident and someone will be forced to deal with it. Can you imagine, cars, roofs, doors, walls, and all manner of trash smothering our beautiful beaches? We will suffer the consequences of a catastrophe that happened on the other side of the world years after the tragedy.

So it is with false accusations. Small decisions to believe lies and act accordingly have great consequences in the future.

I won't waste any more time investing in toxic relationships. I'll be nice when I see you, I promise. If you make false accusations against me, please don't expect me to respond.

It's hard to have a constructive conversation with someone who's wagging his or her finger in my face. I still love you, but please - please put the finger away.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Someone Should Write a Book

The other day my 26-year-old son said, "Mom, someone should write a book or make a movie about us. Seriously! We've beaten all the odds."

"Well," I said, "have you ever read my blog?"

He's right. So far, we've overcome challenges and roadblocks that have leveled many an American family.

We've been swimming against the flow on a river of gloomy statisticians for as long as we've been a family. I've written about the night I nearly miscarried Dallas. My son was obstinate and determined from the moment of conception. He beat the odds - he lived.

I survived physical, emotional, and mental abuse at the hand of a charmingly manipulative drug addict. I was able to escape before my former husband ever laid a hand on my baby boy even though the odds were against us.

My husband Tom married a divorced woman. Do you know that according to the Department of Vital Statistics, 60% of second marriages end? I'm not going to lie and tell you Tom and I never considered walking away, but this was my second marriage and the odds of making it were not in our favor. There was a particularly heartbreaking and dark time in our life and we separated for several months, but we reconciled. Again - baffling odds makers everywhere.

Two of the kids battled horrific addictions to Meth. That drug is a demon that comes for the souls of its users. It was once believed that Meth addicts had no hope of recovery because of the high rate of relapse. The drug changes the brain's wiring by destroying its dopamine receptors and users need a full year to allow those receptors to re-grow. Dopamine is the brain's "joy drug" and without it, people are depressed. Meth gives the user a false sense of happiness, and the abuse/addiction cycle continues.

My kids are amazingly strong, resilient, and determined. Drugs have destroyed so many lives and dreams, but my kids are living and pursuing their dreams with drug-free healthy abandon. Odds beaters!

As a family we've survived tough stuff like job loss, marital discord, financial devastation, bankruptcy, addictions, prison, missing kids, and rehab. The unbelievable reality is that we walked the journey largely alone. Despite being heavily involved and devoted to a large church family, we were abandoned in our time of deepest need. Churches are woefully ill prepared for certain types of conflict. Most church goers walk away from God and religion after experiencing judgmental condemnation - not us. And our extended family? I'll be gentle and just say they were terribly unhelpful.

So, what's our secret? How have we survived - even thrived - when so many other families break and disintegrate? Well, we're not perfect and we're not super heroes. We fight big, love completely, pray unceasingly, cry often, and every day find more reasons to laugh. We give one another the room to fly, the freedom to explore, and permission to be mad sometimes.

I don't write this blog because I think I have the answers. I write because it sucks to go it alone. If just one reader feels less isolated by reading our story, then this is for you. If you can look at us and think, "Wow, I don't have it so bad after all", that's okay too.

Someone needs to write a book about us.

Friday, July 8, 2011

You Go, Girl!

The photo I use for my blog banner is the top half of a picture my daughter Giana painted for me. I hope to someday get a portion of the painting tattooed onto my body. But, that's another topic for another time.

The hands in the painting represent me, and the butterflies are my three now grown children. They know I'll always be here for them (thus the open hands), but Tom and I raised them to fly free. Gia chose Africa as the backdrop for the piece because she has flown there now several times, and I was lucky enough to share one of those amazing life-changing trips with her.

I've known for many years that Giana needs to fly. An old adage says, "If you love something, let it go. If it comes back it's yours. If it doesn't, it never was." It's hard for a parent to let a baby bird fly away from the nest, but it's what you do when you love the anxious little creatures. Gia was born to fly - and she's been flappin' her wings since she was twelve years old.

Last Sunday Jaco Van Schalkwyk was visiting church from South Africa where he is the Executive Director of Refilwe Community Project, a foster care facility for orphans. I'd heard about Jaco, and was excited to meet him. I told him how my daughter was hoping to one day be part of a long-term volunteer service in Africa. He said, "That's the kind of thing I like to hear."

Well, within three hours Gia was sitting at a table with Jaco and his American hosts. One thing led to another, and bam, Gia is scrambling to get to South Africa. As luck would have it, she already has a trip to Malawi, Africa planned and will be leaving on July 27. It won't take much to get her re-routed to Johannesburg instead of California.

The logistics are still being worked out, and we're not sure just how long she'll be out of the country and off our continent. I KNOW this is where she's supposed to be - at least for now. She's got a heart for the hurting, a love for the indigent, compassion for the lost, and wings to take her where her passions lead.

I'm so proud of the beautiful independent daughter that God entrusted to me. You go, girl!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Lest anyone who reads this is tempted to judge my motives, please know this...I love The Church. I believe The Church is the body of believers and not a building. I also know all too well that The Church's reputation is seriously broken - and deservedly so. I'm ashamed of the way we treat people we supposedly love.

I'm reading the book, UnChristian - What a new generation really thinks about Christianity...and why it matters by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. This book has brought me to my knees. The title describes perfectly what this book is all about.

For the past ten years I've been speaking the truths that are spelled out in this timely book. However, I've been poo-pooed by naysayers. "Oh Liz, don't look to people. Just look to God." "Your personal experience is rare. The Church doesn't usually treat people the way you were treated."

Those naysayers are WRONG. My family's ordeal as it pertains to the church is NOT unusual, it is NOT rare, and it is NOT okay.

The Barna Group is a well respected evangelical Christian polling firm located in Ventura, California. UnChristian gives all the data it has collected from non-believers and Christ followers alike to explain why Christianity has an image problem. Oh boy, does it have an image problem.

People under the age of 29 have been particularly turned off by The Church. We think we can bring them back if we play a certain kind of music, or use cool graphics in our video presentations. Well, it's just not that simple. They're sick of hypocrisy and they crave (as I think we all do) authenticity.

In Luke 15 we read the story of The Prodigal Son. We Christians use that parable as the perfect picture of God's grace. I think that's true. However, we gloss over the older brother in the story. He is the picture of The Church. Don't miss this - he is THE CHURCH.

The older brother does not want the prodigal to receive grace. The older brother folds his arms, stomps his feet (my interpretation), and whines to his dad, Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him! Luke 15:29-30

We call one another, "brother" and "sister". But when someone messes up (or is accused of messing up), we refuse to call him "brother", but rather we say, "this son of yours". And by the way, that nasty older brother hadn't even spoken to his younger sibling, yet he assumed the prodigal "squandered your property with prostitutes".

I shouldn't have been surprised when I was accused of saying, doing, and thinking things I didn't say, do, or think. Jesus himself tells us in this parable that The Church WILL make assumptions about its very own brothers and sisters. Ugh. Shameful.

Again, I LOVE The Church. Grieve is a love word. You don't truly grieve the loss of something or someone unless you loved them. You might feel sympathy or sadness, but not grief. I grieve for The Church. My heart breaks for all the people out there who've been disenfranchised, kicked out, or damaged by the Pharisaical hypocrisy of The Church.

We're all broken. No one is better than anyone else. Love is such a simple word. Love is a powerful healer.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Photo Friends

For the past several weeks I’ve been working on putting together a video tribute for a birthday party. I had a great time going through boxes of old pictures, programs, and clippings. My kids were so stinkin’ cute when they were little.

Among the fading photographic images were several pictures of a few people I once believed were very good friends. The smiling faces and intertwined arms tell a story of fun birthday parties, relaxing church picnics, busy mommy days, shopping excursions, and goofy theatrical mishaps—a life shared. Sadly, the happy memories are overshadowed by the realities of betrayal, gossip, and loss.

What do you do with pictures of people who betrayed you?

I used to be able to walk into a room full of strangers and feel confident that I would leave there having made at least one friend. I loved people, I saw good before bad, and I welcomed new experiences. I miss that Liz.

Now I look at those slightly discolored old photos and I wonder if anything I see was ever real. One woman with whom I shared so many precious times actually told me I was “never that good a friend”.

But the pictures are all about friendship—a relationship brimming with love and trust.

So, today I’m a much more cautious person. I hear what people say, but I listen with skeptical ears and a suspicious mind. The door to my scarred heart is rusted shut.

Angry ex-girlfriends literally cut the faces of philandering boyfriends out of photographs. Should I do the same? Do I smudge the image, or do I just trash the pics and attempt to wipe my mind’s memory card clean?

Yep…. I miss the old Liz and the friendships she once trusted. Now, excuse me while I look for my scissors.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

You Can't Make This Stuff Up

I love, love the film “You’ve Got Mail”. I bet I’ve seen it 20 times! At one point Kathleen Kelly writes to her chat room buddy, NY152, “So much of what I see reminds me of something I read in a book, when shouldn't it be the other way around?” I’ve got the opposite issue. So much of the fiction I read reminds me of frightening experiences I’ve actually lived through.

People read books and think, “that doesn’t happen in real life”. I’m here to tell you—yes it does!

I’ve read every one of Nicholas Sparks’ romance laden, tear jerkin’, heart breakin’ novels. Hey, don’t judge me. He rocks. But Sparks’ latest book, “Safe Haven”, is messin’ me up! I’ve lived parts of this story!

The book is about the mysterious and beautiful Katie who appears in a small North Carolina town. Alex is a young widower with two small children. He immediately takes a liking to Miss Katie.

Katie’s past is slowly revealed, and her fictional drama is reminding me of my real-life chronicles. She ran away from her abusive husband. Not only did he hit her and attempt to control her every move, he also used Bible scripture to justify himself.

My ex-husband used the Bible to legitimize his bizarre antics. He wouldn’t go to the grocery story with me because “God hadn’t released” him. He spent hours in front of the television watching Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker because “God directed” him through their show, Praise The Lord. He stayed home and cast demons out of my closet while I was at work, then threw me up against a wall in an attempt to exorcise the devil out of me.

One evening we went to marriage counseling at the home of one of the pastors from our church. We got to the small apartment in Clovis before the pastor and his wife had a chance to get home from the Sunday night service. We sat on the patch of grass in front of the complex—my baby son asleep in my arms.

While we waited there on that muggy summer evening, Terry read scriptures to me. Better to live on the corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife, Proverbs 21:9 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord, Ephesians 5:22. Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting to the Lord, Colossians 3:18. And on and on.

That counseling session did not go as Terry expected. The pastor directed all counsel at my then-husband. He was not being a Godly leader—he wasn’t working and providing for his family, he couldn’t be called the Spiritual head of the home, and he was ignoring the Bible’s instructions to love your wives and do not be harsh to them. (Colossians 3:19)

At the end of our time together that evening, the counselor instructed me to not “use” any of the things said that evening against Terry. In other words, I was not to say, “I told you so!”

On the way home I asked if we could stop for a Sprite soda. Terry went ballistic, saying things like, “The pastor told you not to use his words to get what you want. I suppose you think you can ask me for anything now.” I remember being so terrified that night.

He eventually left Dallas and me at our apartment and he disappeared. I didn’t see him until the next day. Such ugliness.

My former husband has not been the only “Christian” to use the Bible as a weapon of mass destruction. I think I’ve accepted some of the abuse because I sincerely want to “hear” God and honor Him. People often use God as a hammer to beat people into submission.

I’ve written about the associate pastor who told me I was “on a dangerous path” because I asked “Why?” His boss had removed me from a leadership position that I loved and was good at. When I asked why, I was told, “Because I’m in charge.” Don’t ask questions…submit to the will and way of the leader—the man. These could’ve been the instructions of cult leaders like David Koresh or Jim Jones!

It’s not just men who are spiritual bullies – women do it too. Oh, our ways are subtler, but no less wrong. We gossip and call it a “prayer request”. We manipulate and claim to have “heard God” tell us truths He won’t tell you.

Sunday at church the pastor challenged us. John the Baptist said, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” But Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is here, repent.” In other words, come have a relationship with me and hopefully that relationship leads to change. Real heart reformation rarely happens in the finger pointing, name calling, judgment-rendering call to “REPENT!” (Cue echo sound effect)

I grew up in a very legalistic and spiritually oppressive environment. I grew up believing that it was way more important to act religious than to know Jesus and actually have him as a friend. When I was young I was terrified of breaking the rules because God’s wrath would send me straight to hell.

As a young adult I went to the same kind of legalistic, fire and brimstone “do this” “don’t do that” kind of church. It was what was familiar. If I could change one thing about my past, I’d change what my kids learned about religion when they were little. I hope they one day see a clear picture of who Jesus really is—not the spiritual bully they grew up seeing in others.

Home churches are on the rise today. A friend told me the other day she chooses to forego the traditional church because everyone in the home church has “issues just like me”. It would be more honest to say that people at the home church ADMIT to having issues far more readily than the traditionalists, with their “Repent Now!” mantra.

To the bullies I say, no, I am not “too weak”! I’m the strongest person you’ll ever meet and I’ve survived things most people only read about in novels. No, God did not “tell” you some mean, oppressively religious thing about me. We talk everyday and HE thinks I’m awesome. And no, just because you’re a pastor does not mean you can manipulate and twist my words in order to prove I’m something I’m not. No!!