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!