The Collateral Beauty of This Christmas Season

It’s deep December, and I’m a bit late in checking in.

Then again, I’m also late on Christmas shopping and cards and decorating and the like. But I’ve found my Christmas cheer and am enjoying myself silly instead of feeling engulfed in guilt about my failings.

Yesterday, I saw Collateral Beauty at the theater with a friend. It’s a sweet film with a not too subtle message that has always resonated with me: In the middle of a tragedy or even a prolonged period of bleakness, don’t forget to look around for the splendor that’s right there in the middle of it.

I’m pretty good at finding collateral beauty in the midst of tragedy, having had much practice. But when life is simply too busy, or when it’s dark out around the clock in Alaska, or when my car stops working, it’s a different story. The little stuff bugs me. A lot.

But lately, I’ve found myself at so many events related to my memoir this season, recounting the endless acts of collateral beauty I’ve experienced. I can’t remember a time when I’ve cried more or felt so vulnerable. And so grateful.

Just this  week, I met with two classes of high-schoolers for a discussion about the book and on recognizing signs of unhealthy relationships. Their insights were both sharp and gentle. I was in a daylong online dialogue on We Love Memoirs, and  finished the week with a book signing at Kaladi Brother’s Coffee, my second home and the place where I logged many hours of evening writing. New and old friends joined me and settled in for a relaxed talk about our community, twenty or more years ago to now, and where they were when my girls were abducted, and the role they played to aid the recovery.

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Holidays can be tough. I remember feeling stung in years past when I’d look at social media posts or holiday letters from what appeared to be closer or wealthier or just happier looking families than my own here in Anchorage. My friend and blogger Jen Singer wrote a beautiful post about her similar sentiments here in The Holiday Card No One Ever Sends.

Isolating during the holidays is a tradition for some of us. I don’t enjoy big groups, especially when I’m feeling blue, but this year, there’s been no time for that. Whether it’s been through book events or my day job, volunteer work or time spent doing nothing in particular with my girls, I feel a part of something great. And I can’t even begin to say how much love I feel with every email or post on social media and Christmas cards I’ve received. Thank you.

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Truth is, I still live an imperfect life, but so long as it’s filled with love and connections and purpose, I wouldn’t trade it.

I wish to you that same feeling of connection. I hope you know that if you are alone, you don’t have to be. I recognize that just you stopping by to check in with me here is a wonderful effort. There are volunteer opportunities and other people around, looking for connection and meaning, looking for you.

Later today, I get to meet up with a woman who phoned me after a book signing a week ago. She reminded me that in 1990, she’d sold me her TV at a garage sale. I was in my mid-twenties then and was already on my own with my little girls.  It took me a moment to place her, now nearly 30 years later.

“Don’t you remember?… I let you pay me for the TV in installments.”

I can’t wait to see her. Anyone who is kind enough to allow a broke young woman to essential rent-to own a garage sale item is definitely a part of my collateral beauty.

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Merry Christmas. Happy Holidays. Thank you for being here with me. I’m happy to report that Pieces of Me:Rescuing My Kidnapped Daughters has been a popular Christmas gift this year. Thank you!

Five Easy Ways to Help Launch My Book/Pieces of Me: Rescuing My Kidnapped Daughters

Spotted by my friend Ruth at Cabin Fever
Spotted by my friend Ruth at Cabin Fever

I’m thrilled to announce that Pieces of Me: Rescuing My Kidnapped Daughters was released a little early!

In fact, today some of the pre-orders were filled, and I was so touched to see the Facebook posts about it. It’s equal parts exciting and terrifying.

Below is a revised letter my terrific team at Sparkpoint Studio gave me. If you’re a writer, feel free to keep it on file to use it as a template for your own use later.

I hope after reading Pieces of Me, readers will better understand domestic violence dynamics, glimpse the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, and experience the incredible difference a caring community that spanned the globe made to me and my daughters.

Thank you always.

Dear Friends and Family,index

You’ve all been so supportive of me during this journey. This is my first memoir, and I am thrilled by the positive reviews and reception it has already received. Now that Pieces of Me is available in both print and eBook, I hope you will support me by buying a copy for yourself, a friend or family member, or to donate a copy to a local library.

Below, I have listed the 5 easiest ways you can help me spread the word about Pieces of Me. If you’ve already done any, or all, of these, I can’t thank you enough. If you haven’t had the opportunity yet, now’s your chance to celebrate with me on this very special occasion.

How you can help support Pieces of Me:

1. SOCIAL MEDIA: LIKE my author page on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/lizbethmeredithfan/), follow me on Twitter (@LizbethMeredith), and share news about the book via social media (tag me when you do, so I can thank you, and please be patient while I catch up with thank you’s!)  Also, feel free to join the conversation by using the hashtag #PiecesOfMe when posting.

2. BUY THE BOOK: Please consider buying the book! The first few days it’s on sale are VERY important for a new book release. You can order it through your local bookstore, at Barnes and Noble or online, and through Amazon. Amazon sells it in the U.K. and Australia as well.

3. REVIEW: After you’ve read the book, post a review/rating of the book on Amazon. Reviews like yours will help potential readers decide whether or not to buy the book, and the more reviews, the better. If we’re friends or family and/or Facebook friends, please acknowledge that or Amazon may erase your review. Full disclosure is the best policy.

4. GOODREADS: Add Pieces of Me to your shelf on Goodreads and rate it honestly.

5. FOLLOW ME FOR INFO ON READINGS & EVENTS, OR SET AN EVENT UP YOURSELF: Join me at one of my upcoming events, and keep an eye on my website for more updates at http://lameredith.com/upcoming-events/.  Or feel free to schedule your own event. From civic groups to fundraisers, book groups, faith communities, the possibilities to connect in person or via Skype are endless.

Whatever you decide to you, how big or small, it helps and it means so much. Thank you for your continued support and encouragement, and please let me know how I can pay it forward.

Thank you so much,
Lizbeth

Five Things I’m Grateful for in 2015

10509679_10204682674124685_4537211730364252991_nToday is winter solstice, the longest and darkest day of the year. Nowhere is it felt more powerfully than here in Alaska, near the top of the world.

I’ve spent years loathing this time of year, which regrettably falls right on the holidays. This has been an especially great year for me, and I’m more than a little sad to say goodbye to it.

Do you ever look back at the things you were most grateful for before the New Year? Doing that, rather than making lots of resolutions, has been a boost.

So for the chart toppers on my 2015 gratitude list—

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  • Facebook helped me to reconnect with two young men I knew and loved as children, and I missed them after their dad and I broke up fifteen years ago. So what a surprise to hear from them, and to have them back in the fold.
  • My family reunion in Kentucky and Indiana is always a hit. I have eleven siblings, plus aunts and uncles and cousins, and see most of them ever two years. I actually rented a car and drove on an interstate for the first time. Yay, me! And learned my anxieties are too strong to repeat that effort.
  • I loved spending time with my grown girls last January in Mexico. It’s rare that our schedules sync any longer for vacationing, and our trip was filled with sun, silliness, and no family irritations.
  • rs when I make the journey. This time, I was able to see my old dear friends in Ohio and squash 30 years of catch-up in the space of a couple of days.
  • I adore traveling alone, and this October, I zipped over to Australia for a long-planned trip. What I didn’t plan was getting ill on the way over. I chit-chatted with an Aussie couple at my layover in Los Angeles, and they invited me to train over to see them the following weekend. When that weekend came, I was sicker still and wondering if they’d hate me for bringing sickness to their door. It turned out, the wife was a medical doctor. I got the best treatment and company and hopefully, lifelong friendships. I met a new friend, artist Will Stackhouse at a train station, and spent time with several other Aussie friends I’d made over my years of traveling.
  • And then there’s my book. My baby! Pieces of Me is due on September 20, 2016 for publication with She Writes Press.

My year, probably like yours, was also filled with normal life stuff. Disease and car accidents, unexpected expenses and unexpected losses. But on rewind, it was still a banner year.

So goodbye 2015, and thank you endlessly for the new and  the old connections.

And I do resolve to stop slouching in 2016!

What are you grateful for today? Leave a comment below.

Eyes Wide Open: Seeing My Father in a Balanced Light Twenty Years After His Death

1985-meeting my dad and just some of my siblings.
1985-meeting my dad and just some of my siblings.

It had been thirty years to the day since I met my father, a fact I mused only when I boarded the plane to see our shared kin in early June.

I got to see my dad less than a handful of times before he died in 1995 after we were separated by a parental abduction in the late sixties. And in all that time, I’m pretty sure he’d said less than 400 words total to me. Then he was gone.

From our first meeting, I could tell my questions about him would remain unanswered. My father was old. Worn. Tired. Mostly silent.

Who are you? Who were your parents? Why so many marriages, so many kids, so much chaos? And why didn’t you look for me?

Dad, then on the verge of his seventieth birthday, was content to sit in the corner of the room, slumped in his chair, mouth slack, intermittently lost in thought or slumber. He filled in some gaps for me, like why he hit my mother so long ago, how sorry he was for it, and how no one has the right to hurt another person. He injected humor to conversations around him  whenever possible. There was a time after my father died that I gave in to a sense of hopelessness. Now I’ll never get to know him sort of thing. And then I got caught up in the chaos of my own making and lost track of my new family altogether.

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Ten years ago, I committed to make the journey from Alaska to Kentucky to visit family on my dad’s side every other year, and I’ve held to it. And with each trip, I’ve had the chance to get to know my dad just a little bit more each time through his family’s eyes.  Conversations with his siblings. His first wife. With my siblings. And now, many trips later, I feel like I’m coming to know him.

I learned that my father was a different person between his first marriage and the second, and different still when he created a third family, so although I have six siblings by my dad, we all had different fathers.

And there are some interesting facts I’ve learned that helped shape him.

My dad was born almost 100 years ago in a small home in rural Kentucky to a teen mom and her husband. The oldest of the eleven children who survived toddler-hood,  he lived through some rough times, including the Depression, and likely absorbed a lot of the violence and unrest in the home as older children do.  I’ve learned that he married young the first time, and that fidelity in a marriage came to him later.

I’ve learned that despite being forced to quit school in the fifth grade, my father was whip-smart and hard-working, which helped him survive the rough terrain of marriage and remarriages, accepting his wives brood in to his life while subsequently losing track of the children from the just-ended union. I learned that my father served in World War II, and became a machinist for the government and a business owner.

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My aunts in the front seat, story-telling during the hour-plus trip to Bee Spring from Louisville.

I’ve learned that my father’s father was no prince. On a visit to my grandfather’s grave, a complete stranger approached me at the cemetery and told me that he still remembers when my grandfather got mad at his farm pig and sewed his eyes shut to punish him.

If a man sewed the eyes of a pig shut for disobedience, what do you think he’d do to his oldest son?

I learned that my father was a respected brother and loyal son to his mother. I learned that he was committed to evolving over his life time, and became a faithful husband to his final wife, an involved church member, and a gentler version of his former self to his younger children.

We didn’t have much time together, but my dad left me a lot. I inherited his brown eyes and the ability to get a suntan in nanoseconds compared to my friends. I inherited a host of cousins and siblings and aunts and uncles. I’ve inherited dad’s quick temper, his dislike for holidays, and his belief in redemption.

I’ve got a few friends with missing loved ones who tell me they can’t relate to my need to connect with missing family. “Too much trouble. I’ve heard bad things about my missing family,” or “What good with knowing my missing family do me now that I’m grown?”

And while I can’t say it’s a good thing for every person to find their missing family members, I can say this; every time I return back to my small life in Alaska from visiting my dad’s side, I carry a little less baggage and bank a few more cherished memories with family.

My goal over the next couple of years is to connect with some of my mom’s extended family.

Who’s missing from your life? What’s stopping you from finding them? Leave a comment below.

Thanks always for dropping by.

When Online Dating and Reuniting with Lost Siblings Intersect/The story of Erik de Vries and Josephine Egberts

These days, since I’m working on a few different projects, I’m not always certain which direction to focus my blog posts.

I’ve revised my memoir and given it to my editor (yay, me!) for an assessment, and I’m giving my novel a last tweak, now that it’s done. And I wrote the mini-guide for men and women on online dating safety to help with my platform. So do I write on my favorite topics the memoir covers, like domestic violence, finding lost family members, child kidnapping? Or do I focus solely on the novel and explore different ways we find love, like online dating?

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1985-Meeting my dad and some of my siblings.

And then I read about long-lost siblings Josephine Egberts and Erik de Vries, who recently reunited in the most peculiar way: through online dating site Tinder. Touche! It’s a perfect blending.

A family divorce had the siblings living in different countries fifteen years ago. And though the two didn’t recognize one another’s profile pictures, their stories mirrored one another as they began getting to know one another and sharing details about their parent’s turbulent divorces

I found my own father in 1985 through my dear friend and attorney Ira Uhrig. Ira dialed the phone number listed to my father in Louisville, Kentucky. The phone had been connected for less than an hour.  Through that call, I learned I have scads of siblings and aunts and uncles that had been missing me.  It all seemed so surreal. Thirty years later, as I prepare to see the family in early June, it still does.

But meeting a long-lost sibling on an online dating site? Now that is truly shocking.  And wonderful.

When you get a chance at love, why not take it? 

Where has your search for love taken you lately?

Thanks always for stopping by.

A Few of My Favorite Things in 2014

2014-01-03 20.22.23-2Happy New Year!

Every New Year, I like to recap one thing I’m proud of that happened over the past year.

On New Years Day in January, 2014, I made a bucket list item come true. I went to France  and Italy alone and made memories, some of which were transformational.

Then I came home and wrote about them, and my essay got published in A Girls’ Guide to Travelling Alone by Gemma Thompson, which instantly became a Kindle bestseller in the UK! And through that book, I made more lovely connections with other contributors that were equally transformational.

Yes, 2014 was punctuated by many deaths of family and friends and professional challenges. It was also a year of home renovations, and the year I turned 50! But what I love so much are the connections- old and new- that have been solidified.

My 50th Birthday party!
My 50th Birthday party!

Those, and some awesome books I read.

My four top favorite books I read in 2014  were:

1) Swimming with Maya by Eleanor Vincent

2) The Removers by Andrew Meredith (no relation, but I wish!)

3) A Girl’s Guide to Travelling Alone by Gemma Thompson

4) My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Leaving and Losing Friends edited by Jessica Smock and Stephanie Sprenger

Truth be told, if someone would have told me in 1990 when I was filing for a restraining order and signing up for food stamps, or in 1995, when I went on my first solo trip overseas to find my kidnapped daughters, that my life would ever be this rich with family, friends, work, and adventures, I would have told them they were hallucinating.

It’s been a far from perfect life,  but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

What did you accomplish or live through in 2014 that  you want to remember? And have you read any great books lately?

Thanks always for stopping by!

Three Lessons Learned from the Tale of Two Merediths

Have you ever read an article in the paper that you just can’t forget?  I’ve been stuck on the story of these sisters for five years now.

That’s when I read a piece in Newsweek magazine in 2009 called the Power of Two, about the emotional reunion of Chinese fraternal twins who reunited after being adopted by two different American families. Their mother had abandoned them weeks apart in a Chinese park when they were newborns, so no one involved in their adoption knew that  the girls were twins.
Sure, I had an obvious attraction to the story. Both little girls, living states away from one another, had been named Meredith by their adoptive parents. In Illinois, Meredith Grace lives with her family. Meredith Ellen is being raised with her family in Alabama.
(My last name is Meredith, a name I reclaimed when I found my missing father at age 20, and then subsequently named my second daughter Meredith Eleni as my father died. Grace is also a name that runs through my family for generations.)
 But it’s greater than that.
The moral of their story for me is boiled down to three lessons.

1)     The longing for our missing family members is universal.

      Both of these girls individually mentioned either wanting to be a sister, or to be with her sister.  Meredith Ellen had said as a toddler, “I’m so lonely. I wish I had a sister.”  And at three, Meredith Grace told her preschool teacher about her sister in China. A year later, upon hearing her sister’s voice on the phone, said, “I think we were born together.” This, well before their parents had told them of their suspected sisterhood, which DNA tests later confirmed.

2)  Our shared DNA can translate into shared quirks.

These sisters had a distinctive tilt of the head. The tilt of the head led the father of Meredith Grace to recognize that Meredith Ellen was his daughter’s twin as he perused an adoption website online. Though the twins were non-identical, their mannerisms matched them together spot-on.

3)  Connecting with family builds strength.

I know I’ve brought up the benefits of finding missing family members before. And I love The Locator Troy Dunn’s slogan, “You can’t find peace until you find the missing pieces.” But no one has stated this more eloquently than little Meredith Ellen, who at ten, journaled, “I feel close to Sissy because she has been with me since the beginning and when we were put in orphanages I knew that it was sort of hard but I knew that I would find the missing piece in my heart. I found the missing piece.”
 
Do yourself a favor. Read the story from Newsweek. Read updated information about the Tale of Two Meredith’s in Jim Rittenhouse’s online journal. And this week, celebrate your own family connections, however they’re defined.

What Makes Fifty Nifty?

10550133_10203363962597721_659315099500311649_oToday I turned the big 5-0!

Fifty years old! Yikes! Can you imagine?

What do you think you will be doing on your 50th birthday? Or if you are 50 or older, what did you do on that big day?

Traditionally, I spend birthdays  reflecting on what I’ve accomplished over the past year.

I stayed away from that this year. I’ve let so much of my identity become wrapped up in what I get done on my list that on days where I don’t, I get anxious.

The truth is, we’re not owed any time, and 50 is a respectable age to have survived. And if you’d asked me at 20 what I’d be doing at 50, I’m not so sure I would have thought my 50-year-old self would be doing as well as I am indeed doing.

Would I have known that I’d have two lovely adult daughter who helped break the tradition of my family’s early marriage and no education?

Could I have guessed I would have finished college myself and secured a fulfilling job with people I enjoy working with?

Might I have imagined at 20 that the friends I met in grade school would be with me as I reached the half-decade mark?

Probably not.

Yes, in some ways, my life turned out much better than I dared have hoped.

So yesterday,  I threw myself a fairly impromptu party with my best girlfriends. I grabbed a cake at Costco, and we all met on a Sunday afternoon at 3 at a downtown bungalow.
It was magical. And instead of focusing on what I want to accomplish for the next year, I thought instead about how pleased I am to have solid connections. It’s been my friends who’ve helped raise me so that I was fit for a family.

If I have a hope for the future, it is this: I hope for my daughters that they too can have long-lasting positive friendships.  And I hope for me that I remember to take the bull by the horns and go for the things I want so much.

Like writing. Love. Like travel.

50 is a wonderful milestone. What are your ideas for making fifty nifty?

How I Met My Mother-The Sequel Starring Minka and Betty Jane

10329320_248567051994006_7476886914400419449_nblogIt’s easy to take family for granted.

I do it all the time.

I read the story of Minka and Betty Jane this week, a mother-daughter pair separated by adoption for nearly

80 years before reuniting, and I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like if I’d never reunited with my own kids.

An excerpt from the memoir The Waiting: The True Story of a Lost Child, a Lifetime of Longing and  a Miracle for a Mother Who Never Gave Up touched me this weekend as I read about this miracle reunion on MSN.

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Minka and Betty Jane

“Betty Jane. Her Betty Jane, returned to her at last. The infant, the little girl, the teenager, the young mother, the grandmother…Here was everything at once, a lifetime in a moment.”

Minka was just a kid when she placed her baby girl for adoption after being sexually assaulted. She stood by her decision,  but never forgot her daughter. In 2006, Minka prayed that  her daughter’s safety would be confirmed to her somehow, and a few weeks later, she received a call from her missing daughter’s son.

Their story, written by a relative, is available on Amazon.

After I read this remarkable story, my own daughters and I ventured 120 miles from home by car and rented a thimble-sized cabin in Seward, indexAlaska and griped our way through Mother’s Day.

There was no fancy brunch. No Hallmark cards or warm, salted tears of gratitude for years of being the struggling, single mom. But there was time together to enjoy the campfire, share old memories, and make a few new ones.  And after all that we have been through together, we are privileged to take one another for granted.

It is more than enough.

 

Adding to the Three Things I Know Something About

Merry Christmas and/or Happy Holidays!

I’m revising one of my very first posts, written almost exactly two years ago.

Though I will continue to be committed to reconnecting with lost loved ones, issues of child abduction, and domestic violence, in 2014 I’ll be expanding to include more about love. What is a safe and healthy relationship? How do we find them? Keep them?  When should we let go of them?And how do we cherish their memory, once they’ve ended?

And there will always be room to connect on other topics every once in awhile.

I hope your holidays are full.  Thanks for being a constant part of my life over the past two years.

–Liz

My intent when I began blogging was to write about the things I know and care about, focusing on the following three:

1) Domestic violence
 
Recently, I was contacted by two friends within hours of each other about their concerns over a loved one being abused. It’s been more than a decade since I’ve worked formally with abuse victims, and more than twenty since I left my own abuser, but the calls and e-mails still come in.

Dear Liz,

I need your help/ advise about a friend that is possibly at the worst time in life these past few days from controlling/ mental abuse/ possible a recurrence to old physical abuse but not sure.
 
In her situation, she’s been (insert emotional/physical/sexual abuse)…
 
Do I take the information and meet with a police officer, or just give her the information about the local domestic violence agency?  Lead the way.
 Thank you.
 
The fact is, domestic violence continues to be one of the leading causes of injury to women in our country. And the children who witness violence against their parent often end up in their own trouble later on if the cycle goes uninterrupted.
 
2) Parental child abduction, especially international child abduction

Sixteen years ago, I recovered my abducted children from Greece. Only a fraction of parents whose kids are kidnapped and taken out of their home country ever see them again. I was (am) lucky.But despite the passage of time, issues of child abduction cross my mind daily, if not hourly. Perhaps it would’ve been more manageable had I not been a stolen child myself. 

3) Recovering/reconnecting with loved ones.

Random, you say? 

Not really. Because the first two topics are all about isolation. Being disconnected from supports. From family. From yourself, even. I firmly believe losing strong and healthy relationships isn’t just sad, it can be dangerous. Conversely, I’m convinced that having those relationships in tact can be instrumental in preventing or getting out of a violent intimate relationship.

So now that I’ve stated my blog’s raison d’etre, I’m committed to writing about them. At least some of the time. And I hope you’ll let me know your thoughts from time to time.