Journeys of the Heart

Monday, November 20, 2017


A number of years ago, back in my lushful days, I sat in our cruise cabin(large cocktail in hand), gazing at the daily schedule.  I spotted a meeting listed  for 'Friends of Bill W.' "What is that?" I asked my husband.

"That's an AA meeting." He replied.

"Oh, those poor people!" I gasped. "Imagine going on a cruise and not drinking." Back then I really couldn't imagine not drinking on vacation. In those days a cruise ship was a giant vessel filled with bars, fruity drink specials, and an epaulet clad designated driver.

Nowadays, cruising for us is an entirely different experience. No more bed spins enhanced by a wavy ocean. No more passing out after dinner and missing the show. And best of all—no more drama. 

We recently returned from a lovely 7 night Eastern Caribbean Cruise. This was our second time traveling with a sober group, "The 2nd Annual Gratitude at Sea Cruise." On board we enjoyed meetings, workshops, fellowship at dinner, and great company on shore excursions.

Imagine bringing your best friends with you on vacation. Not the ones you have to associate with because you work with them, or because you happen to be related. No, true friends who care about you, people you don't have to impress. 

There are several advantages to traveling with a group in recovery. One is having your own built in support group. If the sound of the blender at the Lido Deck bar starts my brain churning I have the cabin numbers of shipmates who will be more than happy to help me play that tape to the end.

The truth is, I'm rarely tempted. If I were I simply wouldn't go. So if you are in your first weeks or months of sobriety a cruise might not be for you. 

Another advantage of traveling with sober friends is the instant connection. How many times have you heard folks newly returned from a trip say, "We met these wonderful people..."? On our cruise it felt like we had brought all of the wonderful people with us.This connection comes from being with others who are actively working a spiritual program. Instead of sitting on bar stools lying and crying, grasping at superficial relationships, we share our deepest thoughts in a nonjudgmental atmosphere.

Hebrews 10:24-25 "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another..."

 Also, being with a group in recovery ensures that people will actually show up at the shipboard meetings. A common complaint of sober cruisers is that the meetings are tiny, and sometimes unattended. We were able to work with our travel agent, who happens to be my husband, to schedule all of our on board activities at times that suited our needs.

My favorite reason for cruising with a sober group is that it is just plain fun. Some of the activities that I have enjoyed on my 2 sober cruises include renting motorized bikes in Cozumel, hiking to Damajagua Falls in The Dominican Republic, diving a shipwreck in Grand Cayman, and relaxing on a private beach in the Bahamas. 

Rob and I enjoying the beautiful beach at Half Moon Cay, Bahamas
Damajagua Fall, Dominican Republic

Anyone who has traveled has most likely experienced waiting in line, looking for luggage, unexpected  delays, last minute itinerary changes(We did thanks to Hurricanes Irma and Maria) or other inconveniences. It's just part of the travel experience. But when these typical annoyances come up with folks in recovery we are much more likely to shrug and take them in stride. People who have experienced humility and gratitude laugh the loudest. After all, we are not a glum lot!

For more information on cruise groups or to receive information on next year's Gratitude at Sea Cruise call 877-554-2789 or visit: 

Saturday, August 5, 2017


I had just left my storage unit, and I was driving down the highway bawling my eyes out. I had emptied every single bin looking for my earrings. "One more thing I've lost." I cried to myself. I thought of all of the years of memories my collection represented, happy years before my boys died, years of family gatherings before we sold our home. The missing earrings triggered a flood of grief that overwhelmed me.

It started back in 1971 when I bought my first pair of novelty earrings. They were cute little replicas of common household products such as Coke cans and Alka Seltzer. I delighted in their wackiness. They were 89 cents a pair, and each week I bought another. This was how my collection started.

Pretty soon my ninth grade algebra teacher would not start class until he had checked out my earrings. "Ok, Maribeth is wearing her Juicy Fruit Gum earrings today; now class can start." 

I continued to purchase earrings everywhere I went and people began to buy earrings for me as gifts. Over time, as my collection grew, it became an expression of my creativity. In my bowling league days I had my bowling earrings; when my daughter danced at her recitals I wore my ballerina earrings; when my son played soccer you could be certain that little soccer balls would dangle from my lobes. 

.As a teenager my daughter was sometimes embarrassed by my earrings. This merely added to my enjoyment. "Don't you realize that you are an earring heiress?" I would quip.

When I became an elementary school teacher I enjoyed matching my earrings to the curriculum. If we were doing a unit on transportation out came my airplane, car, and boat ear-wear. For whatever we were reading I had animals and objects from around the world. I sometimes went so far as to jot down earring ideas in my lesson plans! At times I was accused of being Ms. Frizzle, the cartoon teacher from "The Magic School  Bus" series whose earrings always matched each episode.

When tragedy struck, my earrings became an expression of my grief. I have a pair of gold hoops that have little cherubs clinging to them. They represent my two boys who are with the Lord. I have feather earrings for my Chris who likes to send feathers, and fish earrings for my Jarrod who loved fishing. I think that there will definitely be earrings in heaven.

Recently when we downsized I gave some of my earrings away, kept  some with me, and put the remainder in storage. Like my beloved children in heaven I was sure that I would see them again.  

So when I left the storage unit empty handed, I sobbed hysterically. I especially mourned the loss of my troll earrings. I had collected a miniature pair to match every holiday. I remembered Chris playing with my little Santa trolls, Jarrod flicking them so they rocked on my ears, and our daughter, Erin, rolling her eyes. "Remember, some day this all will be yours." I would remind her.

I was in a funk for days and I gradually resigned myself to shopping online and to hopefully replacing some of my favorite troll earrings. Then, months later, Rob and I were at his mom's house. She was keeping some of our art for us in her garage. "Look what I found of yours," she said, holding up a large bag filled with earrings. And there they were, all of my little trolls smiling up at me!

"It's Christmas in July!" I exclaimed, delighted. Once again I could touch and wear something that physically connected me with my cherished past. 

It was like the Lord was reminding me that I will see my boys again, but I don't get to pick the time.

Grief is funny that way. It isn't always sparked by the obvious such as anniversaries. Sometimes it leaps up at us unexpectedly, triggered by everyday objects like earrings.

What reminds you of your departed loved ones? I would love to hear about it.

Thursday, July 6, 2017


They cling to the wall like limpets in a fish tank. The braver ones scramble across the floor spending almost as much time prone as they do upright. I skate through a minefield of bodies in various stages of collapse.

A clear minority are comfortable on skates gliding past their wobbly classmates.Some hold hands, supporting each other precariously, sliding and flopping about.

That was the scene I witnessed on a recent trip to the local skating rink. It looked quite different from my youthful days when almost everyone was comfortable cruising around on wheels.

 Kids can't skate anymore!

Clearly gross motor skills have fallen victim to neglect and indifference. Perhaps our youth spend way too much time bent over their phones strengthening their thumbs while their quadriceps lie prone on the sofa. It seems that most of the gliding, leaping, and twirling now takes place on video screens.

Or maybe the proliferation of organized sports and summer camps has squeezed out the neighborhood sidewalk time we baby boomers logged while learning to skate. In today's age of safety concerns and working parents there are fewer opportunities for old-fashioned free play outside with friends.

As I reflect upon the scene described above I can't help but draw a parallel to recovery. As active addicts and alcoholics we relied upon an altered version of reality. We weren't really skating in the rink.

 We were playing the video version in our heads while our normal friends were learning to balance and glide, taking their knocks. As they learned we stayed on the sidelines, often allowing others to support us. We were like those kids who had never learned to skate.

No wonder it's so hard when we first get out there! 

Sometimes we need a sponsor to make sure we strap on those skates, someone to hold our hand when we take those tentative first steps.

Sometimes we fall—a lot. 

At times our skates are knocked out beneath us. Like an out of control skater colliding recklessly with others our life circumstances challenge us. That is when we reach for two hands to hold us—our sponsor on one side and God on the other.

We can be like the cling-ons on the wall, hanging onto the bottle, or the pills, or whatever. Or we can get out there and collect a few bruises.

The kids who are willing to do that learn to skate much faster. The same is true for us.

Saturday, June 10, 2017


Happy birthday, son. Today you would have been 30. What a wonderful husband and father you would have made. Your dad and I will always be proud of you. I am honored and awed that I was chosen to be your mom.

I remember your squeaky kindergarten voice and little boy truck noises. You were an action-packed kid, knees scraped from tree climbing, your beautiful blond hair plastered down with sweat from dashing about in your home-made super hero cape. I'll never forget looking out the kitchen window just in time to spot you whizzing by on a skateboard. In one hand you held the dog leash attached to our black lab, Moonshine, who towed you down the street. In the other hand you held a squirming snake. Your joyful boyhood warmed my mother's heart.

Then the cancer came. It stole your energy, your hair, your school days, and many of your friends.  But it couldn't steal your spirit.

 I remember your glorious pranks! As we walked across the clinic parking lot you would spot an unsuspecting stranger, and slap the street sign when they weren't looking. As it reverberated you would hold your bald head and groan while they exclaimed "Are you okay?" 

Remember, the bottle trick, Chris? Whenever you finished a bottle of water you would hide it in you hand and squeeze it while bending over and grasping your back with the other hand. The crinkling noise sounded just like bones cracking! Sometimes folks would rush over, then you would hold up the bottle and crunch it for them while we all shared a laugh. 

I miss how you used to tease me. I never could find my car in crowded parking lots, so you diagnosed me with "parking lot disorder". When I frequently misplaced items you used to say that I was blonde in another life! Oh Chris, what I'd give to hear you tease me again.

When you were dying, you knew it before anyone else. You told us before the doctors made it official. You calmly accepted the fact that you would never see 15. You also told us that the Lord was coming for you soon and that you were looking forward to going to heaven. Chris, you comforted us as you spoke so confidently of eternity.

Romans 8:38-39 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[a] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

So on this day that would have been your earthly thirtieth, I try not to dwell upon unborn grandchildren nor upon the painful brevity of your powerful time here. I know that you forgive my tears as I cry not for you, but for myself. You dwell pain free in the light, your earthly purpose fulfilled. I draw upon your example as I write this, hoping to achieve my own purpose, perhaps as someone who shines a light for those who grieve. 

Chris, you remind us that our time here pales in comparison to eternity.

Psalm 14:4: Man is like a mere breath; His days are like a passing shadow.
Chris, you have no need of birthdays. They are for those of us who are still limited by earthly time and space. Your love and your humor endure. The day will come when we meet in the Lord's presence where every day is a new birthday.
2 Peter 3:8 ‘But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.’

Tuesday, May 30, 2017


One of my favorite recovery prayers is The third Step Prayer. Found on page 63 in the book, "Alcoholics Anonymous", it is one of the most frequently and reverently uttered prayers by folks struggling to stay sober.

It begins with "God, I offer myself to Thee..." Sometimes I wonder—what if God said, "Ha,ha, no thanks, I'm good."

 Well, I couldn't blame God for declining, after all, He's not getting much of bargain here. He’s getting an almost 60, near sighted, forgetful, grandma with no patience( A cracker packet that won’t open—Just stab it with a pen) whose idea of being organized  is to move the paper pile from the top of her desk to the floor beneath her desk, and whose conception of backing up data is to walk backwards towards the trash can. I can't even locate my car in the Walmart parking lot. Yeah, God, I'm here for ya.

" build with and do with me as Thou wilt..." (I tried to build a four layer cake once and ended up with a pancake.) 

"...Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do thy will..." (Sometimes I spend so much time stuck inside my head I walk into walls.)

"...Take away my difficulties..." Ahh this is the part of the prayer I like best. Please, God, get rid of the hard stuff. Clear that traffic, transfer the annoying boss, set up Skype for my loved ones in heaven, make the forgetful hubby put the seat down, and could I get your email address?

 But, when I pause my self-pity button, I realize that my difficulties are the point. After all, who would want me to help them if I were perfect? More likely, they would want to slap me. My plethora of flaws make me approachable! The Lord loves to use my flaws.

The fact that I have figured out how to live sober in spite of my difficulties makes me a useful resource. There are rooms full of people who identify with my screwed-up-ness. "...that victory over them(my difficulties) may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life..."

When we in recovery realize that sobriety isn't all rainbows and unicorns, and when that pink cloud wears off( So cool, I remember where my car is parked!) we turn to each other for support. But we cannot offer it to others until we ourselves have plugged into our higher power. C.S. Lewis says that we have to come to the end of ourselves.

In her radio show I heard Joni Eareckson Tada speak of kintsugi, also known as kintsukuroi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with powdered gold, silver, or platinum.The breakage and repair are honored as part of the history of the object. The end result is even more beautiful than the original unbroken piece. That's what the third step allows us to do—become human kintsugi!

Some days the best part of the prayer for me is the last line..."May I do Thy will always!" That's where I allow God to paint his gold on me.When I attempt to align my will with God's that is where the real building begins—relationships, useful employment, and true recovery that is so much more than not drinking.

What I wonderful concept: God can actually use me if I let him! The Third Step Prayer opens that door.

Proverbs 3:5-6New International Version (NIV)

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.[a]

Sunday, May 7, 2017


I recently spoke to a friend whose life has also been touched by tragedy. We discussed the fact that some of us seem to be handed much harder lives than others. It's so easy to envy others for their healthy family or their cushy lifestyle.

 I believe that those of us who have had to walk through greater trials have been given greater responsibility in this life. Perhaps the Lord is trusting us to provide the world with a perspective that goes beyond circumstance. In this temporary life we have been tasked to become messengers with an eternal message.

From C.S. Lewis "If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world."

 I believe that there is no greater calling than to give hope to others:

 Romans 5:3-5: "Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;  perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us."

I once had the honor of meeting Sister Antonia Brenner, a nun who chose to live inside the walls of a prison.  Her story is told in the book The Prison  Angel. Click here. She gave up a safe, comfortable life in order to minister to inmates in a notorious Mexican prison. Inmates tell the story of how she once walked into the middle of a prison riot, past tear gas and bullets. When the rioting prisoners saw her fearless demeanor they stopped fighting.

I think the real reason they stopped their rioting was because Sister Antonia had offered them the one thing they needed: hope. She had been ministering to them with basic needs such as aspirin, blankets, and glasses; but more importantly, she had ministered to their souls. Murderers, rapists, and every imaginable career criminal heard the gospel of hope from sister Antonia.

I have also had the honor and privilege of meeting women like"Cassie". Cassie once walked the streets, prostituting  herself in order to pay for her drug addiction. If anyone was hopeless it was Cassie. But Cassie sought help, and surrendered to a loving God. She eventually went back to school and earned a counseling degree. Now she works with other women battling addiction. 

She says, "I was once a hopeless dope fiend, now I'm a dopeless hope fiend!"

When I first met Cassie I had just begun my own journey of recovery. For years my daily drinking had steadily increased. I had tried many times, unsuccessfully, to stop. Cassie's perseverance inspired me. Her character blossomed before me, just as mine blooms now for those who follow. Now others tell me that I inspire them!

Programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and other twelve step programs are successful because they connect people who have suffered in a similar way, and gently, lovingly, without prejudice, show them a way out.

In other words, we get to carry a light of hope.

I recently attended a conference for women in recovery. As is the tradition at many of these conferences the person with the longest sobriety(in this case 52 years) was invited on stage with the person who had the least sobriety(6 months). The senior member presented the newcomer with The book of Alcoholics Anonymous( affectionately referred to as "The Big Book".) In the front of the book all of the conference attendees had signed their names and sobriety dates.

It was an inspiring message of hope complete with 300 signatures stating "You can do this, and we are here for you!"

My biggest dose of hope has come from an unlikely source—my young son, Chris. His leukemia treatments included a drug that produced painful sores inside his mouth and down his whole GI tract. During his chemo cycle his immune system became so depleted he was often bedridden. But his last words to us were words of hope. "Mom, when I get to heaven I'll see Jesus. I'll have hair again, and I'll be able to get my driver's license."

When I share Chris's story with others who have lost children I'm sharing a grieving mom's gospel with my own unique story. I'm sharing the hope of seeing our children again.

And when our second son, Jarrod, died unexpectedly in an accident, I was tempted to go back to the bottle and say "Screw it!" But I had had years of practice with Romans 5:3. I had had years of running with that light of hope. I had had years of helping other women stay sober through tragedy. As my life circumstances had become more painful the holy spirit inside of me had grown stronger.

2 cor 12:9: But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 

 Some, like sister Antonia, choose their suffering(Although, she probably wouldn't have called it that). Others, like myself, have had it foisted upon us. But if the end result is that we all become a source of light and hope, then we have served our divine purpose in this life.

Sunday, April 16, 2017


ACTS 2:46: "And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,"

 I am confronted daily with young children who struggle. Their social skills have declined steadily over the years that I have been in the classroom. Taking turns, working in groups, understanding  differences, and forgiving mistakes—these are tools that my students often lack. While many blame electronics, I believe that the extinction of sit down meals also plays a major role.

I have spent more than 30 years teaching elementary school, and the students who are the happiest and most well adjusted have adults who spend quality time with them, often over a meal.

It is during meal times, sans electronics, that children and teenagers can have the undivided attention of someone that loves them. This is the time when they can be debriefed from a stressful day, where a caring adult can help them cope with rules and conflict. It is also a time to celebrate their victories and accomplishments.This is when parents, sharing intimate conversations with their children, become their greatest teachers.

ACTS 2:42: And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Where are your kids getting their feedback from? Their  peers? Facebook? Twitter? TV?

 "I'm so tired from working," you say. "We don't have the time to actually have sit down meals and conversations at the table." Have you considered that investing the time when your family is young may save you time and money later when you are carting them to counselors or bailing them out of trouble?

Think of it as an emotional investment portfolio that will pay priceless dividends later on.

Two of my three children died very young, and I am so grateful that I have a wealth of family meal memories. We prayed together, we told corny jokes, we brainstormed project ideas, we discussed strategies for dealing with bullies, and yeah, sometimes we argued, but most importantly, we connected.

But don't take my word for it—look at the evidence. Dr. Anne K. Fishel, author of  "Home For Dinner: Mixing Food, Fun, and Conversation For A Happier Family And Healthier Kids", and co-founder of The Family Dinner has spent years researching the topic. Her findings confirm that families that take time to break bread together have kids with a better academic performance, less depression, lower risk of substance abuse, lower risk of teen pregnancy, and more.Click to read more.

Cornell University did a study that backs up these findings and further states that family meals are an integral part of an overall positive family culture.Read more. The article recommends a minimum of 3 meals together a week. 

The more I researched the more I found! Family meals make a difference!

I would like to challenge you, if you are not already doing so,to make this commitment to your children. To my Christian readers: Chauffeuring them to youth group and church does not replace our precious meal times together. Remember Jesus hosted the "last supper", not the "last sermon" or the "last youth camp."

What the articles do not say is that you have to be a gourmet cook, or even cook the food yourself. (However, there are a gazillion easy recipes and tips out there.)They do not even say that it has to be dinner. But they all do say that you need to turn off the TV and the electronics.

I am not surprised that my observations as a teacher are backed by solid research. In my classroom point system my students can earn treats and privileges. Can you guess what one of their favorite rewards is?  Lunch bunch with the teacher. For a half hour they get my undivided attention where I can love on them. Sadly, many are not getting that at home. I am teaching them values that, once upon a time, we all learned at the dinner table.