Wednesday, March 4, 2015

THORNS TO DEFEND US AGAINST THE WORLD

We all have thorns to defend us against the world!  Yet it is more than apparent that time and time again Gracie has walked into places, spaces, and faces and the thorns seem to disappear.  They are replaced by memories of moments when life was easier. Times when laughter was the norm and memories of peaceful, happy times return and bring untold treasure back to lives. Fears and complications vanish and suddenly people find they are in a place where nothing else is important but Gracie's gift she so generously gives. In her presence, many have learned how to breathe again.  In the exhalation the stress and depression and lost of joy seems to vanish.
 
As Antoine de Saint-Exupery said in The Little Prince, "The thing that is important is the thing that is not seen." For many of us, our wounds are not visible and we keep them tightly secured inside. But for those whose wounds are visible it is a little harder.  Are they judged? Are they shunned?  This is where Gracie's journey begins.
 
They are so many lessons to be learned from this little dog.  She has had little to no vision her entire life, yet has found joy in simply being alive.  She has one eye removed and was a trooper.  She has had chronic health issues and adjusts and adapts and keeps her joy of life flowing. Dan Zadra said "Surround yourself with people who believe you can." I would include Gracie in this. It is her mission on this earth to bring light and laughter and love to everyone she meets. 
 
What living with her for almost 12 years has given me is having been blessed to watch her at work with her wounded warriors and to realize the strength in the words of Emily Dickinson when she wrote, "To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else."  I see this in Gracie.  I have never seen it in another person or creature.
 
What an amazing gift and blessing she has been and remains to be to this world.  These messages we should all pay attention to.  For in them is brilliance and light.  If Gracie could talk, she would tell us to get on with this business of living in the same way she does.  By sharing, by caring, and by opening our sightless eyes and minds to what really matters.  What makes the day worth living and what puts its mark on this world.  Love and joy at simply being given this one breathtaking gift of just being alive.
 
Lewis B. Smedes wrote, "We get control of our lives, ultimately not by willpower, but by surrender.  The final secret lies in amazing grace."
 
Gracie was aptly named. For she is grace personified.
 
 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL ABOUT BEING PERFECT

What is fear anyway?  How do you handle it?  What do you do with it? How do you make it stop? Or do you hold it close and tuck it inside a teardrop?

Right now I am afraid.  Afraid for my little 11 1/2 year old blind PBGV who is having an MRI and then immediate surgery after.  Hundreds and hundreds from around the world love her, adore her, and are praying for her.  She has been in my heart since she was 7 weeks old and within hours of being euthanized, because she wasn't perfect. Born with an eye issue, she wasn't able to be sold or bred so the only other answer was to eliminate her.  What compassion and love of life.

I stepped in and said 'No', she is mine.  And 'she will be a soldier's angel'.  And that she has been, for nine years.  She has also been my angel time after time after time.  In turmoil, I have turned to her.  In happiness, I have turned to her and in sadness I shed tears into her neck. I have scratched her neck and snuggled her neck and slipped bandanas around her neck and loved smelling the special Gracie fragrance found only in her neck.

And it is her neck, that has held all of my tears and joys, that is the issue at this time. As I write this, she is just coming out of the MRI and going into immediate surgery to decompress discs 6/7 and 2/3 in her neck. Three days ago her front and back legs just went out. Herniated disks. I don't mind admitting I am scared.  She is older and anesthesia frightens me ~ always has, whether people or pets. And I am not in favor of  being out of control. But I 100% trust her doctors. They are special, extraordinary, caring, compassionate human beings.
 
So today I trust.  I trust the doctors and a higher power to bring her through this and back to me. Gracie has been the soldier's angel for a decade.  Now retired she is my angel.  With all of her issues, blindness, removal of an eye, chronic urinary tract infections, and more, I melt like jelly just looking at her. To me, she is a light like none other. I treasure her and cherish her.
 
On the way to the specialty hospital this morning, I remembered the hundreds of times she and I drove to a rehabilitation hospital to work with patients. I remembered the hundreds of warriors she helped come back to reality from war.  I remembered her racing around my house as a puppy with a torn lavender filled eye pillow, flinging it all over the house so joyfully.  I remember her carrying the sofa pillows to the back yard. I remember her finding a lost turtle in the garden and sitting barking by its side till I came to the rescue. But most of all I remember loving her like nothing else in my life.
 
She brought me through a personal hell.  She made me smile when I didn't think I would ever smile again. She has taught me what unconditional love and acceptance is all about.  But most of all she taught me to never give up no matter what, to love deeply and sincerely, to cherish the little things and the extraordinary moments that come and go before we know it. And she has taught me acceptance of disabilities and to keep on keepin' on through  pain to the other side! And her everyday lesson could be summed up in these words....."what is the big deal about being perfect?"

This morning I sang her favorite song to her, trying to choke back tears, as I drove her to the hospital. "Jesus loves me this I know. For the bible tells me so.  Little ones to him belong.  They are weak but he is strong."  

The phone should ring shortly.  I should be patient.  I should be strong.  But truth is the lump in my throat and the tears in my eyes are winning. Aren't I supposed to be the strong one?  Dealing with wounded warriors with multiple amputations and burn survivors should have made me strong.  

Maybe it did, in just a different way.  Oh to hold her close once again.



 

Friday, February 6, 2015

LULU

SEVERAL YEARS AGO...SEEMS LIKE YESTERDAY!  HOW I LOVED HER.
Lulu…
Someone said we are given memory so we can smell roses in December.
 I had expected it to be on the front page of the Sunday paper, condolence calls, and flowers at the front door.  But there were none, nor were her life’s accomplishments in the obituary section of the paper. 
No one’s life was better for having known her, but mine.
 She was the epitome of beauty.  When she and I took long walks, cars would stop to just look at her.  Her eyelashes framed her large eyes as she followed every move I ever made. 
She wasn’t social or exuberant and her favorite place on earth was inside the house.  It was the only place she ever really wanted to be.
Her first two years she spent confined to a cage, barely big enough for her to turn around in.  On weekends she was left alone in the dark.  She hated closed in spaces and longed for freedom.  I took her into my heart and home to find that she would take great delight in blessing my home with large branches, huge dirty footprints, and a dead rat.  The sofa cushions would become toys and were often found in the back yard.  Her beautiful white fur would decorate the shrubbery like Halloween decor.
She spent her last winter, as I had hoped she would, chasing birds and sniffing the air with contagious enthusiasm and energy.
Lulu taught me patience, tolerance and that good things come sometimes in very large packages.  She hated cameras and being left alone.  Despite her 145 pounds she was unobtrusive and preferred to stay in the background.  She was terrified of thunder and hated the long hot days of summer. 
The lid of the toilet had to be open and the kitchen countertops needed to be scrutinized for possible leftovers. Many a sandwich disappeared if I had to answer a phone call.
Lulu and I went through 4 vacuum cleaners.
She would have loved today.  Bright, cool, crisp and blue skies. 
I watched her being born and held her just minutes later on New Years Day.  I gave her her first bath.
Once I admitted her into my life, I’ll never forget her.  I sometimes sense her in the kitchen nudging the pantry door to remind me that suppertime is close.  I always felt safe with her around.  When in truth, it was more likely Lulu who felt safe with me around.
I am glad she knew no harm would ever come to her ~ ever again. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

ACCEPTANCE


ACCEPTANCE

Entering the rehabilitation gym full of people I hear someone, referring to a patient, say, “Just shoot me if I get that way.” 

Where does that mentality come from?  Is it fear, impatience, selfishness, or apathy?  I’m just not sure. The one thing I do know is that it is not from a place of love, reality, compassion or respect.  It is not all about us.  It is about the patient, the person, this real person struggling to heal, to take another breath, to look forward to seeing his grandbaby again, or to return to his or her spouse, struggling to walk or talk.  It is about many things.  These patients didn’t ask to be in this position or even this place. 

It is also about our parents or family members who sacrificed and raised us, as best they could.  It isn’t about our inconvenience; it is about what is right, honorable, and the proper thing to do.  Has caring for a family member or friend become so obtrusive to our lifestyle and precious time that we have lost something vital to our very existence? 

How terribly sad!  I think of Gracie, my therapy dog, by my side that isn’t able to see, and yet in her darkness she quite simply loves and accepts people, people she has never met before, just as they are, with all their foibles, deformities, idiosyncrasies, and tribulations. 


Why can’t we be the same?  Why is there is so little tolerance for imperfection in our society? Why is it we have been conditioned to seek only perfection? 

We are all who and what we are intended to be.

A pearl begins as a defect.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

GRACIE'S MAIDEN VOYAGE


GRACIE’S MAIDEN VOYAGE

I had intended on taking Gracie to the rehab hospital on a beautiful October Sunday morning for her first therapy dog in training adventure. She was only twelve weeks old, and I didn’t expect much. In fact, I didn't know what to expect.  But we had to start sometime and this seemed as good a time as any.  I had intentionally selected Sunday, because it would be less crowded and distractions and stimuli for her would be less. I wanted her to just walk the halls and visit with staff and perhaps family members of patients. Many of the patients had day or weekend passes, so it seemed a perfect time. 

I prayed all the way there that she wouldn’t be stressed by being sightless in a new environment with all the strange sounds and smells. Little did we know what lay ahead.

Dressed in her pumpkin bandana, Gracie entered the recreation gym and was instantly requested by a physical therapist to come into the center of a circle of twelve patients, all in wheelchairs, doing stretching exercises. They seemed bored, uninterested, and simply doing what they were told. No one smiled or spoke.  As we walked into the circle of wheelchairs, Gracie showed no fear, no trepidation, nothing but enthusiasm, as she charmed each patient one by one.  As she went from wheelchair to wheelchair, placing her front paws on the padded arm of each chair, she got pats and snuggles and stories of their dogs at home. Smiles came to faces and conversations were started. It was clear a career had begun, a career that would end in hundreds of lives being significantly changed for the better.
Next assignment on day one, Gracie was requested to visit with a patient to assist him with focusing on manual dexterity.  She was placed, at the therapists request, on a bed with a wounded warrior with a traumatic brain injury just flown in from Iraq days before.  She loved it when he laughed at her antics.  The  staff told me it was the first time he had shown any emotion at all. She snuggled into his neck, lay quite still and in her own way told him everything was going to be okay. It was then that he moved his arm to put around her and pet her. Again a huge accomplishment, as therapists looked at each other in amazement.  He whispered and asked if she could walk beside his wheelchair to the front door of the hospital, because he wanted her to meet his wife and surprise her with Gracie and the news that he moved his arm. His only arm. He asked when she would return and kissed her nose goodbye 'until next time' !

We went back into the hospital with the intention of packing up her thing and getting ready to leave.  It was then that word had spread and Gracie had a request by a nurse to visit with a despondent cancer patient. They sat together for what seemed a very long time.  Words were not exchanged, but Gracie snuggled and snuggled into this young woman's side and silent messages were sent, each to the other.  Tears ran down the face of this patient and Gracie seemed to sense it and snuggled in even closer.  This little one who normally was vivacious and more than energetic quite simply sensed what was needed and provided it.

No one could tell that she was unable to see.  On leash, she stayed right by my side and danced and twirled on her back legs, causing everyone to laugh.  This was the best medicine possible. I kept telling her what a good girl she was and how proud I was of her.  I could tell she was getting tired, and as we were leaving a patient with Parkinson’s wanted ‘kisses.’  Gracie was more than willing to oblige.  He told us all about his puppies waiting for him at home and how anxious he was to see them again, but in the meantime asked for Gracie to return to see him. 
It was as we were leaving that the young cancer patient, who was despondent just minutes before, called us to her side and whispered softly, “I have fallen in love. I love her. I love Gracie.”
Not bad for day one of a journey of a lifetime!

*****
“It is clear to us, friends, that God not only loves you very much but also has put his hand on you for something special.” ~ Thessalonians 1:4

 

 

 

Monday, January 12, 2015

PUTTY IN HER PAWS


PUTTY IN HER PAWS

It isn’t always easy living with a PBGV.  Nor did it take long to realize it is impossible not to fall in love with one.  Their delight in the smallest detail of life can turn a bad situation into a tender moment.

Gracie can demolish five rolls of toilet tissue, retrieve the Kleenex off of the night stand, and drag the sofa pillows to the yard before you know it.  But when she puts one paw on my knee, slides up beside me on the sofa and then turns over onto her back, I became putty in her paws.  She has been a treasure, a delight, a blessing, a trouble maker and a clown all in one. But most of all she has been an inspiration to hundreds of others.

She has made me smile when I don’t feel like it.  And she manages to chase the blues right out of the door.  Her sheer delight in watching me open the back door, just for her, is such a joy.  Bouncing up and down, ears flying, feet elevated from the floor by at least five inches, she tears out the door on some clandestine mission of grandiose importance known only to her. 

It became abundantly clear from the time she was 10 weeks old that she was to become an angel, as she worked with stroke survivors, cancer patients, seriously ill children, and America’s wounded warriors returning with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injuries and Military Sexual Trauma. 

Mark Twain wrote that “Every great poem begins with a lump in your throat.” This is how it began with Gracie.

Gracie has taught me repeatedly that life is a spiritual journey, and sometimes all you have to do is show up and have a little faith that something completely amazing is possible that day.  Then when it does,  you are no more in control than a feather in the wind.  Gracie’s journey began with a single step to a place where she has the power to change a life.  To give a moment that will be cherished and remembered forever.  The simple and honest act of taking Gracie to work with our wounded warriors brought meaning, depth and poetry to hundreds who needed it more than they ever realized.

Gracie’s story spread to the wife of a warrior.  She shared Gracie’s work with a friend whose husband had just been killed in Iraq.  She was severely depressed and had spoken of suicide.  The more she learned about Gracie and ultimately met her, her life turned around.  She rescued a yellow lab and now takes him to visit the wounded warriors. A single huge step had been taken.

A friend of mine had asked to see photos of Gracie with the warriors.  I sent her an assortment.  She wrote back thanking me and the next day wrote back again to tell me how they had touched her deeply and that she couldn’t get them out of her mind.

I understand this!  To be witness to Gracie’s intentional motivation of loving and being loved, it isn’t difficult to understand why people respond to her as they do.  The responses of the courageous young men and women to Gracie are overpowering.  These are young men and women who laid their lives on the line, took the bullets and fought the fight and paid the price.  Yet in the presence of this twenty eight pound dog, they turn into children with their first puppy.  They hold her head gently in both of their hands and look into her sightless eyes with love, a deep and special love.  They may never see her again, but for that moment they connected to something greater than themselves.  For that single moment, that cannot be explained, they felt loved back, totally and completely. They may have lost limbs, vision, eyes, and more but at that time and place they feel love.

Gracie, as should we all, sees past the outward appearances of people. She touches hearts in a way that defies all logical explanation.  And yet somehow it is explained clearly.  This intense and unconditional love is what we should all strive for but seldom do.

Tom Davis in “Why Dogs Do That’, says, “There are no strings attached, no riders, or special stipulations; there’s no fine print, no expiration date, no statute of limitations. They (dogs) love to a depth and degree that few of us, I fear, reciprocate.”
I find myself remembering Gracie’s and my time with the soldiers in snapshot like moments.  Struggles, tears, fears, courage, and smiles are often too powerful to fully comprehend.  But they come back to me, much like the photographs did to my friend.  They are forceful, strong, intense, turbulent and ardent.  Never to be forgotten or taken for granted.
 

None of us remember days.  What we do remember are those moments, those snapshots that cause that lump in our throats to surface and the tears to come.  The gasping moments, when we unexpectedly see the face, or hear the voice of a loved one or see a flower blooming on the side of a cliff that literally takes our breath away.  A wise and cherished friend once told me that every one of us has that sad place deep inside of us.  It is from that place that hope and peace and grace surface.  And for me it is compassion.  For, as my friend told me, out of compassion passion emerges.

*****

“Let’s not make such a habit of hurry and work that when we leave this world, we will feel impelled to hurry through the spaces of the universe using our wings for feather dusters to clean away the star dust.” ~ Laura Ingalls Wilder

Saturday, January 10, 2015

WAITING TO BE FOUND

I remember one day quite clearly when my precious little Gracie, was not responding to my calling and calling her to come inside.  I must have had somewhere most important to be, or that was my perception.  I kept getting more angry and more agitated that she wouldn't come in.  I gave up and started searching the yard.  Finally, I found her with her collar stuck in the wire handle of a heavy hanging basket that had rooted her to the ground. I felt so badly for yelling and getting mad, when she couldn't do a thing to help herself but sit and wait to be found.

 
At one time or another we are all unable to respond because we find we too are rooted to the ground, immobile, stuck, unable to go in any direction. We are all waiting to be found, waiting to be rescued.
 
Sometimes I feel that way when I sit down to the computer to write and enter a new dimension with words.  Most likely I have to find the lump in my throat and then the words pour out of me, unfurling like a flower. I refuse to be distracted.  There is always something that needs tending, something else to do, but for me there is never going to be another moment that inspires and excites me like right now. Watching Gracie stretch out on the rug in my office, sigh and take a deep breath, I search for words to string together like pearls, words that say what I feel and see. She has found her safe place and is content just to be close to me. For me Gracie provides a state of calm, stillness, and a place that grounds me to the present moment and feeds my soul. She reminds me to be grateful for what I have. And it is at this place, I begin to write.

 
Getting to this place isn't always easy.  There are what I call crazymakers who do not understand my passion for creative writing and my need for space and peace.  As Julia Cameron says, "Crazymakers expect special treatment and discount your reality.  Crazymakers pretend you're crazy."  When I finally grew to understand this, I realized that who I am around effects who I become.  I have learned the most from my soul mates and kindred spirits who keep me being the best that I can be so that my soul can do the most for this world. Just a few carefully chosen words in a text or email from a dear friend saying, "What you do makes a difference" are all I need to hear to feed my soul.  I am inspired by inspiring people.
 
This is when I try to create beauty in a place where there isn't any, a place where there is only sickness, pain and fear.  When I get grounded or stuck and feel like I need to be found, I realize we all need to push past the pain and understand that our lives are not dependent upon one moment of happiness after another.   For it is through moments of being stuck and suffering that we develop a kind of grace and our own pain opens us to a place of peace and love for others that might never have been there otherwise. For me personally, I know this to be true.
 
So I write and put meaning into whatever it is I might be doing.  This quite simply requires that I set myself aside and make someone else happy. I disregard and step over those who try to fill me up with a story they can control. I have found that I must get swept away, trust the mystery, trust the journey and have faith. 

Yes, I have suffered.  Yes, I have endured pain and through it all I have come to understand that at the end of the tunnel serenity holds out her hand and leads me to a new and better place.  It is at this junction that I, just like Gracie, have been found and I am no longer stuck or immobile. I have been given the mind set and the gift to touch lives.  Maybe that is the work of my angels.