Sunday, January 31, 2010

THE NEXT 2,333,000 MINUTES



A little over a year ago I purchased an amazing book called FIVE!  It was my birthday and the book transported me to a place where I could almost believe I could literally plan my life, this one and only life, so that I don't miss any of it!  The first page told me, "You don't have to take life the way it comes to you.  You can design your life to come to you the way you want it."  Okay how? I continued to read.

It tells me that I can make the next five years the most 'exciting, satisfying, productive and amazing years of my life so far' or I can make them just another five years.  Hum!  I'm game!

I read it cover to cover while sitting on the beach on Mustang Island, TX.  An atmosphere where almost anything seems possible.  With a glass of Bordeaux watching the vivid tangerine colored sunset, I read that the purpose of the book  is to "stir my creative juices and to inspire me to really get in touch with my dreams."  To sum it up, "you really can turn any 'what if?" into "what is."  Okay I'll bite!  But then I was watching the shrimp boats head past the orange glow of the sunset into Port Aransas and beachcombers heading to the first sand bar in search of sand dollars. And again dreams seem easier and a little more vivid and true on this island.

I guess I should have followed the plan of the book a bit more carefully this past year.  Because it was anything but exemplary.  I learned more painful lessons than I ever want to learn again, battled and still battling the horrors of Panic Disorder, and trying to crawl one step at a time back into life after having been kicked into a deep hole yet again.  But then it is said that we grow the most through adversity. 

The two 'guiding stars' the book suggests I pay closest attention to are choosing my values, my personal choices of what is most important to me.  And secondly to choose my mission - what inspires me the most - what is my life's calling?  I need to turn my dreams into goals. 

Then I became struck as I re-read, "Some people spend all their lives on a boring little island called the "Someday Isle."  Someday I'll be happy.  Someday, I'll hike in Nepal. Someday I'll have a great adventure." I know several of these people.

As my doctor told me only last week, "Life is not a dress rehearsal.  Life is now; seize it!"

So yesterday I did have ice cream for breakfast-Cookies and Cream.  And I did receive a gift of a 'CLOSED 'sign to hang on my office door or around my neck!  (Thank you Ed!)  And this morning, I let the dogs out and went back to bed!  (That probably doesn't mean much to you - but for me it was a luxury.)

So today I think of my friends, the people I hold dearest in my life.  I think of my soldiers and how they are my mission.  And I think how I have flown a helicopter onto the Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska, have fallen in love with Tuscany, have spent multiple summers in France, have climbed the highest pyramid in Mexico, have cruised the Inside Passage of Alaska, have lived a year in Korea,  have walked on active red hot lava in Hawaii, have riden horses with cowboys in Hawaii, had pizza and port in Portugal, danced in Spain,  had wine in Yugoslavia,  danced on a table in Greece, walked the Parthenon and Pantheon, have visited Abiquiu and hiked the Tzankawi Run and on my life goes.

There are things I have intended to do and have put off, things I wish were different, but as for the next 2,333,000 minutes - I am not so sure.  But then maybe, just maybe, I don't have to be.  Maybe I just have to let go and remember, "Why not you?  Why not now?" Now is my time.  As Viktor Frankl said, "Success is the side-effect of your personal dedication to a course greater than yourself." 

I personally want my next 260 weeks to matter.  I want to live them, enjoy them, taste them, smell them and feel them.  And it started yesterday with ice cream for breakfast! I feel very, very sad for people who are missing this amazing journey when they alone are responsible for the quality of it. 


*******************

"Your journey is determined by the choices you make.
Your answers are determined by the questions you ask. 
Your destination is determined by the steps you take. 
Your future is determined by what you do today."
FIVE
Compendium Incorporated
Live Inspired!

"Don't just show up for life - live it, enjoy it, taste it, smell it, feel it."

~Joe Kapp~


"Live your life so that your children can tell their children that you not only stood for something wonderful - you acted on it!"
~Dan Zadra~

"The future is sending back good wishes and waiting with open arms."
~Kobi Yamada~










Friday, January 29, 2010

CLEARING COBWEBS

Chase and Ashley


Muddled thinking, and fuzzy thoughts, and cobwebs this morning.  Too much to do, much left undone, and, again and as always, people pulling at me, offering spoonfuls of guilt in my quiet morning hours. I am trying to remember my doctor's orders, "Just say no."

Fortunately thoughts of great laughter from last night drifted into the early hours.  I thought about the Fisher House at Lackland AFB last night and a room full of patients and family members suffering, struggling, and coping with various medical life interruptions who had suddenly and unexpectedly found laughter - serious laughter. People knee deep in circumstances beyond their control allowed two Penny's From Heaven Foundation Soldiers' Angels Support Dogs to take over! 

The minute we stepped into the foyer of this home-away-from home with Chase and Kelsie the aura changed.  Smiles began to appear on  faces on this very dreary, rainy night and the shift in the environment appeared contagious.

Ashley, with PTSD, came into the room whispering, "I've missed you.  I've waited all week to see you." She knelt down to snuggle Chase and then Kelsie, who were equally eager to nuzzle her.

We moved the 'party' down the hall, followed by children squealing in delight at dogs in 'their' home. This was only our second visit, and it felt as if we were greeted by old friends.  Julie, the manager, warmly welcomed us with hugs of appreciation and gratitude, as we began to explain our presence to a few of the newcomers. 

Then right on cue, with no announcements or fanfare, the show began.  Ashley, on the floor with Chase, was scratching his tummy.  Soon they were both on their backs and Chase began what looked like yoga movements, raising and stretching one leg alternately with the other.  He would make a move and then Ashley would make the same movement.  Soon their were in unison.   Cameras came out to capture the moment, the moment the healing medicine began to flow and the moment that offered the gift of laughter to those who needed it the most.  Circumstances of their day and their life for a while disappeared, as the offerings of two dogs evaporated the somber mood and awakened these brave people to possibilities of hope.

Kelsie and Ashley

Conversations and laughter continued as we were  nourished by a chicken  pasta salad and chocolate pudding with tiny marshmallows prepared by an AF Lieutenant who volunteers for the Fisher House.  Kelsie, content in her home for the evening, curled up, quite literally,  nose to nose with Ashely, both inhaling each other, breathing softly and peacefully. I watched as Ashley whispered, "Kelsie, I love you," just before they both fell asleep.

For a while Ashley had found a moment of peace from the horrors of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  And isn't that what we all want?  Just a moment of peace, a pause in the day when we are allowed, and when we allow ourselves, to slip away to a place of peace.

This morning my writing has allowed me to clear away the cobwebs and remember what is really important in my life.

When is the last time you had a moments peace, a space and place where your problems disappeared and you laughed out loud from that most sincere and genuine place deep inside of you?

Smiles were soon replaced by yawns and it was time to go.  As we were preparing to leave, Julie, the Fisher House manager, stood with tears in her eyes and said, "You two don't know how much joy and laughter and love you bring when you come here...it is like no other time. Thank you."

Ashley and I hugged goodbye and she whispered into my ear, as she had Kelsie's, "I love you."

Until next time.

 ***************

"Pure unselfish love draws to itself - it does not seek or demand."

~Florence Shinn~ 

Thursday, January 28, 2010

REALITY CHECK


"Bean" - Chimayo, New Mexico

Chasing fantasies more often than not end up with broken promises and broken hearts - and then sometimes perhaps not.


Once upon a time when I was a child, I had visions of what my life would be like if only I could grow up - if only things were different - if only I were a better person - if only....


Somewhere within me there are still unspoken fantasies or dreams or goals, things yet achieved.  These are often accompanied by a certain tenacity that won't let go.  Call it stubborn.  Call it faith or frivolous or willful or downright, "Damn it!  I deserve it."  But hand in hand with fantasies, often sight unseen, creeps in a reality check.


Then the question arises, if I let go of my fantasies what will happen to me?  What will take their place?  Does something to have to? Will new dreams, fantasies yield more broken promises?


Letting go isn't defeat.  Letting go can be freedom.  It can be inhaling.  It can be a beautiful shade of green velvet, soft and lucious.


The butterfly has yet to emerge, but will it? 


It is raining softly outside this morning.  I go to the door to let the dogs out.  First Kelsie, then Wally, then little blind Gracie who instantly senses, smells, and hears RAIN.  She stops dead in her tracks and charges back into the house.  I can almost hear her thinking, "Darn, no squirrel chasing today."  On this heavy liquid day, no chasing fantasies for either of us.


Gracie too was stopped by a reality check.  I wondered if I have learned the difference between reality and the land of fantasy and broken promises.  The land of  if only...where actions speak louder than words.


Or maybe my fantasies are reality!  Maybe fantasies are necessary. And maybe fantasies allow us to cope. Or at the very least, something to ponder on this rainy day in my search to find myself. 


Maybe the world doesn't need to conform to my fantasies.  Maybe, just maybe, the real world is fantasy enough.


*******************


Fantasies are more than substitutes for unpleasant reality; they are also dress rehearsals, plans. All acts performed in the world begin in the imagination.



~Harrison, Barbara Grizzuti~


"I like nonsense -- it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living. It's a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope... and that enables you to laugh at all of life's realities."



~Dr. Seuss~


"Everyone must have a fantasy."


~Andy Warhol~


"You wish to see the distant realms? Very well. But know this first, the places you will visit, the places you will see, do not exist. For there are only two worlds - your world, which is the real world, and other worlds, the fantasy. Worlds like this one, worlds of the human imagination. Their reality, or lack of reality is not important. What is important is that they are there. These worlds provide an alternative. Provide an escape. Provide a threat. Provide a dream, and power, provide refuge and pain. They give your world meaning. They do not exist; and thus they are all that matters. Do you understand?"

~Neil Gaiman~





 

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

SHOWING UP



Sometimes in the midst of chaos and confusion and confliction we can find miracles, if we watch very closely. 

I guess it is the writer in me, but I see things that go unobserved by most.  I guess you could say, and I like to believe, I watch for miracles.

Last night was no exception. At a fundraiser for Penny's From Heaven Foundation just such an occasion was offered.  The music was loud, piercing, and at times thunderous.  You know the kind where you find yourself yelling to be heard, straining to hear, and nodding in agreement to something someone said that you have no idea what was said.  The mood was jubilant, the food was top-notch, and the crowd eager and proficient.

Since it was a fund raising event, I had Kelsie with me.  She was visibly stressed, and I wished I had left her at home.  Her face showed great distress and her usual complacent, comforting appeal was missing.  I tried to keep her safely on her blanket, but her ears hurt and so did her spirit.  Everyone was wanting to pet her and learn more about her work as a Soldiers' Angel Support Dog. It was just then that the miracle appeared, in the shape of one little girl.  It was soon apparent that this party goer didn't care about Kelsie's work or 'her' soldiers or how old she was or what breed.  All she wanted to know was her name.

In the midst of music and joviality this little girl shadowed Kelsie and simply sat on the floor and gathered her into her arms, stroked her fur, felt her ears, and looked into her soulful, pleading eyes.  People side-stepped over and around them, juggling drinks and plates of food, never stopping to observe what was happening.  I watched for a while and then almost yelling over the crowd and music, I asked her if she had a dog at home.  Somehow I knew the answer before I asked.

"No, dogs are not allowed at our home."  My heart broke for her.  It is like not allowing love inside, or happiness, or trust, or friendship, or promises, or restoration, or joy, or miracles, or prayer. Kelsie and this little girl were instant friends.  Kelsie felt her a shelter in the storm of this evening and the little girl, for at least a while, had her moment.  She had a dog.

She clung to her and kissed her and spoke gently to her over the din.  I thought of their home as cold and lonely and missing something most important.

It was then I realized that sometimes just showing up is all it takes, and that having just one moment is more than some people will ever get. 

I would like to think that one day when this little girl grows up, she will remember Kelsie and that she will have a houseful of dogs. I hope so. Unconditional love is a gift she should not miss. 


Whatever comes from your heart is a gift that should be given honor. 

I hoped her father was watching the same miracle I was.


***************

"For where your treasure is - there will your heart be also."
Matthew 6:20-21

Monday, January 25, 2010

A PILLOW WITH A HEARTBEAT



Comfort -  safety - a sense that someone loves us unconditionally - protects us - someone we can be our true selves with - someone we trust completely to not ever hurt us.

Yesterday I attended a fundraiser for my Penny's From Heaven FoundationFreebirds World Burritos was having a grandopening in San Antonio and, in keeping with their tradition of helping the community, they had chosen Penny's From Heaven and the Fisher House for charitable contributions for this special occasion.

"BUCKS FOR BOOKS" - A 'buck' would buy a POCKETS OF PEACE book for a deployed or wounded soldier.  Two hundred peole got a free burrito and could donate a 'buck' or two to our foundation.


Freebirds had developed a poster that hung proudly on their wall, next to that of the Fisher House.  I  had a lump in my throat, as I saw my precious golden retriever Penny, shining down from the poster and from heaven, as a line of two hundred hungry people waited for 12:00 to get their burritos.  Kelsie and Chase our PFHF Soldier's Angels Support Dogs were present, displaying their usual calm attitude in the midst of chaos.  The donation boxes were filled and emptied and filled once again.  We collected over $400.00 for our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Soon it was our turn to sample these famous Freebirds World Burritos on the patio, the dogs quickly falling asleep at our feet.  I became distracted from unwrapping the largest burrito I had ever seen, to observe as a waiter stood nearby quietly watching the dogs, as if in a time lapse.  I glanced down and saw why he was transfixed.  Kelsie had laid her head on Chase's back and both were sound asleep, breathing rythmically in unison.  The waiter simply smiled at what was a moment of grace, going unnoticed by most.  He looked up,  smiled at me, and then summed it up as he whispered, almost as if to not wake them, "A pillow with a heartbeat."

This moment and position went unhearlded except for a few children who had gathered around.  One little girl said, "Oh look mommy they are snuggling!" Mom simply pulled them away and said, "We have to  hurry, come on." 

The essence of the moment was unimportant and lost to her. But to a handful, the moment was comprised of contentment and perhaps even a little mystery, as to what another species can teach us.

Perhaps the lesson learned was that a "pillow with a heartbeat" just might be what we are all searching for - a shelter from the world.

Each of us are givers and receivers,  each one in need and each with something to give.

*************************

"What astounds and delights people, tells us everything we need to know about human nature."
Author Unknown

"It is loneliness that makes the loudest noice."
~Erik Hoffer~

"What makes us human is not our mind but our heart, not our ability to think, but our ability to love."
~Henri Novwen~

You too are invited to contribute a 'Buck for a Book' for a wounded or deployed or deploying soldier.
We accept paypal, check, money orders, and credit cards.

Make a difference today...tell a soldier you care that he is risking his life, protecting you and your country.






Saturday, January 23, 2010

THE STRONGEST SOULS




Gracie, my little blind therapy dog, and I 'see' many young men coming out of ‘The Center for the Intrepid’ at Brooke Army Medical Center with arms and legs missing. Some alone and some with wives walking beside them, perhaps going to lunch before painful therapy begins once again.

On one visit, a young father in a wheelchair approached us, being pushed by his two year old daughter. In her little white dress with embroidered red cherries, she seemed quite proud of pushing her daddy around. To all in this community, it appeared a perfectly normal thing to be doing. They stopped as soon as they saw Gracie. This brave casualty of war whose legs had been blown off by an explosive device in Iraq smiled broadly, as he invited Gracie to put her paws up on his lap. Gracie did so unaware that there was anything odd about not finding legs.

His daughter, Ashley, embraced Gracie with a smile so huge my heart melted. You see she has a puppy that has had to be left at home while they spend a year or longer with her daddy – ‘just until he gets his new legs.’ I talked to her about Gracie and told her Gracie could come and visit whenever she wanted. As  they turned to go and I watched little Ashley’s eyes fill with tears, as she gave Gracie a soft little kiss on top of her head and told her to ‘come back soon Gracie, I love you.’

Our next visit this morning was with a Marine called ‘Doc.’ He had come home missing both legs, as well as his eyesight, he was on a walking patrol and just feet away from an IED as it exploded. His mom through tears told me that “there is absolutely no reason he should be alive.”  I quickly found out that what  wasn’t missing was humor and sheer guts. I had told Gracie to ‘settle’ and she turned to lie on her side on top of a patio table. 'Doc’ sat talking to Gracie and gently rubbing her tummy, as he appeared absorbed in the moment with his furry therapist. He explored every inch of Gracie with large but very gentle hands, and she explored him right back, with sniffs and gentle nudges. What ‘Doc’ didn’t know was that when I tell Gracie to ‘settle,’ she starts to make guttural noises that I call ‘talking.’ This time was no exception and the conversation proved to be solely between Gracie and ‘Doc.’ I backed up as far as the leash would allow, so this time would be just for 'Doc.' 


After a few minutes, and words that I will never know, I asked 'Doc' where his strength comes from. “Everyday that I get out of bed and put both feet on the ground and stand up, the rest is pure gravy.” I looked at him and felt sure I could see a twinkle in his sightless eyes and a slight curl of  his lip. In the presence of this blind little dog, a sightless Marine double amputee shared his greatest gift with me…humor.

‘Doc’ is erasing everything that is bad and has opened a door into a place that is hopeful. ‘Doc’ will be okay. He has years of rehabilitation left, but will find his match in humor from Gracie’s visits. Gracie will be there for ‘Doc’ as long as he needs her. The good news is a guide dog is being trained for him when he returns to his home state. This of course, after he learns to walk all over again, on his ‘new’ legs.

As Gracie and I started to leave I gave ‘Doc’ a big hug and he whispered into my neck, “There is a reason I have been spared. There is a reason.” This morning as I stare at his photo on my desk,  I don’t doubt but what there is.

Things that we often look at as the end - can be the beginning.

*************

"Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls:  the most massive characters are seared with scars."
~Kahil Gibran~



Friday, January 22, 2010

GRACIE - THE SOLDIER'S ANGEL




Kevin is from Nashville and loves country music, the historic Ryman Auditorium, the Grand Ole Opry and is father to a five year old little girl. He is a quiet young man, who answered the call when his country went to war. It was a struggle for him to talk as he had only three days before had graft surgery that had temporarily connected his cheek to his upper shoulder. He had severe burns over his entire body and had lost both legs just above his knees.


The first time I had met Kevin was as he wheeled off the elevator at the Fisher House. He stopped his motorized wheelchair to watch little Gracie playing with me on the floor in the formal living room. He seemed reluctant to come in, so I took the initiative and asked if he would come help Grace relax after she had worked all morning. He seemed intrigued. I felt he was relieved that he had an excuse, but I sensed somewhere inside he was apologetic for his appearance. Gracie’s playtime proved to be the perfect catalyst for conversation with this soldier.


I told him Gracie was a therapy dog and showed him her badges and pins on her vest and told him of her vision problem. “I couldn’t tell; I think her eyes are beautiful.” Kevin said. He told us that he had been in the hospital for 793 days, had been allowed to go home and then returned to BAMC (Brooke Army Medical Center)  for another surgery. Because of scar tissue, thin skin and the potential for infection, there were few places where Gracie could touch him, or for him to find a way to be able to touch her, from his discomfot and lack of mobility. So I lifted her onto a chair and moved her close to his wheelchair. It was difficult for Kevin to to navigate to pet her. But his eyes never left her. Being with Gracie allowed him to focus on her and not have to make eye contact with me. We talked for a while, about his daughter, his hometown and the reality TV talent competition where country singers compete for a recording contract, “Nashville Star.”

I told him I would be happy to bring him anything he might need and to call me if he thought of anything. He assured me he would and that he would also be happy to attend Gracie’s birthday party in a few days. As I thanked him for his service and his sacrifice, the words felt quite inadequate. And then I remembered being told by another soldier, that they don’t hear that very often. Kevin simply said, “Not a problem.” And then as quickly as Kevin had entered my life he had left.


Leaving my heart was another thing. I felt like I had held my breath the entire time he was here. The moment he left the room my eyes filled with tears. Tears for him, for others like him, for the future he might have had, for his pain and struggles and sacrifices and for those who can’t see beyond outward appearances to what is real. A weekend lead volunteer came in and asked who he was. She had wanted to come in and meet him but found she needed time to collect herself first because his appearance was so distressing. She and I just sat for a while, holding hands, and shaking our heads. There wasn’t a need for words.






I silently turned to see little Gracie intent on searching ‘her’ bag for any more treats. Another lesson of huge proportions learned from a little dog. To Gracie, Kevin was just a new friend whose appearance simply was not important. I was, and will always be, filled with wonder at what a member of another species teaches us about unconditional love and the interconnectedness of all living things on this earth. To paraphrase one of my favorite authors, Antoine de Saint Exupery, “Here is my secret. It is very simple. The essential things in life are seen not with the eyes, but with the heart.”


On this beautiful day I had been given a glorious blessing. And this blessing was named Kevin. He served for America. The words written for Operation Gratitude’s publication by a little girl named Katie sum it up.

 “Serving for America, what better could you do?
Everything around me, and everything that’s new.
Couldn’t have been possible, unless there was you.
Being safe at home, and being safe at school.
All because of all you guys. You guys rule!”

I felt immeasurable pride and impassioned humility to have just been able to spend a few moments with Kevin. He represents the gift and blessing of freedom that will never escape my being. His sacrifices will never be forgotten and will find enduring gratitude in many, many hearts, not the least of which is mine.


Marjorie Williams in her children’s storybook, The Velveteen Rabbit, tells the story of a stuffed toy rabbit that lives in the nursery waiting to the day when the boy will choose him as a playmate. The shy rabbit befriends the tattered Skin Horse, the wisest resident in the nursery, who reveals the goal of all nursery toys is to be made ‘real’ through the love of a human. The Skin Horse tells the Rabbit that, “Real isn’t how you are made. It’s a thing that happens to you.” “Does it hurt?” asked the rabbit. The Skin Horse says, “Sometimes. When you are Real, you don’t mind being hurt. Generally by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real, you can’t be ugly except to people who don’t understand.”


This has been written for you to honor and applaud extraordinarily handsome and ‘real’ men like Kevin who sacrifice and exemplify the meaning and lessons of patriotism. Their strength, their skills, their wisdom, their bravery and their courage was put to the test. They are the reason we are free.


Kevin may never know what he signifies and exemplifies. But to me he is probably the most ‘real’ person I have ever known. In less than fifteen minutes he and Gracie had taught me about growth, authenticity, pain, suffering, acceptance, relationships, and love. We all look ‘out there’ for that someone who reflects back to us those qualities we admire and most often lack. Physical appearances don’t make us who we are. They don’t make us real.

Gracie and Kevin brought life into perspective and showed me the special grace found in one of the hardest, best things I ever did.

God bless you Kevin!

**************
"It's time for us all to stand and cheer for the doer, the achiever - the one who recognizes the challenge and does something about it."
~Vince Lombardi~


Please help us help our wounded soldiers like Kevin. 

Make a tax deductible donation to Penny's From Heaven Foundation, by going to www.pennysfromheavenfoundation.org
We accept paypal, checks and credit cards.
Thank you!



Thursday, January 21, 2010

A CLOSED SIGN




We are not here on this earth by mistake.  We are here for a reason, a purpose.  Do you know what your purpose is? 


We can't just take our purpose and hold it inside, knowing what it is isn't enough. We must give it away. 



And then sometimes we find giving it away is tiring, exhausting. A comment posted on yesterday's blog says that I 'do soooo much.'  No arguments here, yes I do, and most of the time I thrive on it and hold tight to my purpose.  And then sometimes I wear out and sometimes I retreat, and sometimes I can't take another step, and sometimes my fatigue causes me anger or tears. And sometimes it rearranges my world. 



I was gently reminded yesterday by a friend in Arizona, a friend in San Antonio and from words of wisdom quoted from an extraordinary book, The Power of Pause (http://www.loyolapress.com/ )  "What if life isn't about pushing yourself to the limit, but embracing every minute?  What if life isn't about constant action but eliminating distration?  What if life isn't about learning to live with stress, but learning to live with less?"


We are built (or at least I am) to exude the perception that we are strong all the time, that we can face mountains with no problem.  But that is about what everybody else wants us to be; it isn't about us.  Sometimes we have to allow ourselves to be weak, to not be all things to all people, to not jump through hoops to get the job done because of someone else's lack of poor planning.


Today I want a porch swing or a hammock or just a few hours without distraction in a silent space, to remember that I too count and I too matter and that without taking care of me - I cannot take care of anyone else. I find I must put a sign on the door of my soul for just a while that says, "Closed."

***********************

I heard this morning some snippets of wisdom. I leave them with you for today !

"You can't have Friday without Sunday."

"When you are mistreated remember, "He opened not his mouth."

"Hurting people hurt people."

"When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around."
~Willie Nelson!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

COFFEE SPOONS, DOG FOOD, AND THE REAL WORLD



What do you suppose it says when you stir your morning coffee with a sterling silver coffee spoon you just dipped dog food out of a can with?  Could  be connected to an email I sent to a friend at two a.m. asking her to cover for me today for the Reading Education Assistance Dog program at Ft. Sam Houston Elementary School, because I am close to burn out...seriously close.

The pages of my calendar can't contain the massive work to be accomplished.  Complaining about it won't lessen the burden or get the job done.  And then the true message for this morning would go unnoticed.

Sometimes we get so caught up in all the 'stuff' in our lives, that we forget what really is important. 

This little pup in the photograph belongs to no one.  Yet somehow with one email sent from a combat medic named Nicholas in Afghanistan to Soldiers' Angels ( http://www.soldiersangels.org/) to Facebook, this pup named Ashley and her puppy now belong to everyone!

"Hello everyone I'm PFC Miller a Medic out in Afghanistan.  I know you all do alot for our soldiers out here but there a special someone here where I'm stationed that we all care about and seems to be forgotten.  Her name is Ashley she's also got a one month old pup out here too.  I would appreciate if someone could make a care package for them and send it to me."

This soldier, whose job is saving lives of our sons, daughters, brothers, husbands asked for nothing for himself, only for a little stray dog in a war torn country that has brought love and a sense of home to him and his buddies.  They are feeding Ashley scraps from the chow hall and loving her; he describes her as "their guardian out here."

I sent out a plea and the response has been overwhelming.  From lovingpets4lovinghomes@yahoo.com, from a doctor in Malibu, CA, from Pets for Disabled Americans, Inc., from Over There, and from a female soldier named Summer also stationed in Afghanistan who learned of the pup from my Facebook.

Patsy, I received your email via other rescue folks like ourselves. I too am stationed in Afghanistan and I would like to have PFC Millers APO AE address so that I can assist if we are stationed close together, and also to have the address so that my friends can put boxes together for the soldiers and Ashley. So, if you have the time, Please forward me PFC Miller's mailing address and I will ensure that Ashley is taken care of. Thanks for all you do for the cause. Look forward to your response.



Very Respecfully,

Summer
 
Biscuits, treats, dog food and toys are already on there way to Afghanistan.  People care and that is what America is all about.  About the horrors in Haiti and about a little dog that brings joy to so many soldiers in a war zone on the other side of the world.
 

Please consider sending a small contribution through www.pennysfromheavenfoundation.org  by way of paypal, credit card or check.  Please put ASHLEY in the comment line and your contribution will go directly to assist Ashley and her pup and other dogs our soldiers have fallen in love with that need your help.  This is for the dogs, but more importantly for our soldiers who find solace, and companionship, and nonjudgemental love, a beakon of light, and maybe even a smile or two that will, at least for a moment, allow them to escape the environment in which they are imbedded.
 
It is by putting ourselves in another's shoes that we come to know and hold and sometimes absorb their pain and joy. 
 
So for today I will open the calendar again, ignore the panic, do those things that I can do, and make a fresh pot of coffee.
 
I for one would rather climb a mountain than crawl into a hole.
 
 
*****************
"Pain is inevitable, but suffering optional."
M. Scott Pick
The Road Less Traveled
 
 





Could it be that I wrote this same friend

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

UNLOCKING DOORS




Without love there is nothing left to feel.  More times than I care to mention, I find my sole solace lies in helping others. 
Last week I was at the rehab hospital with 'Kelsie'on the Animal Assisted Therapy table waiting for the next patient to come and work on achieving some goal or expectation, whether standing balance, fine motor skills, attention to task, manual dexterity or some other small step toward rehabilitation. 

The occupational therapist wheeled this particular patient to the table and told me that this man is a 'mystery.'  He had been found in his bathroom after being in there for three days.  There was no known diagnosis, except dehydration.  He sat in his wheelchair studying me with perfect eye contact.  I cocked my head slightly and simply smiled at him.  Kelsie was lying on her side and turned her head to look at him.  But his eyes never left my face.

I began telling him about Kelsie - how old she is and how many pounds she weighs. I told him about her history of being bred in Canada to be a guide dog here in Texas for the blind and about how she had spent several weeks in Dominguez State Prison here with an 'offender,' as her basic obedience trainer.   I asked him to pronouce her name.  He did.  I extended the handle of a rubber brush to him and asked if he wanted to brush her.  He raised his arm, took the brush, and started brushing Kelsie in one place on her side, not moving his arm or the brush.  But he was brushing her. Then he began brushing the blanket she was laying on. I really didn't think too much of it at the time, but soon I noticed the occupational therapist signaling to others to look. "That is the most 'anything' we have seen out of him since he has been here.  This is wonderful."  

It seems that Kelsie's presence had unlocked a door inside this man that hadn't been opened in a long time.  As of now, no one knows what battle this man has carried, what his future holds, but for this one moment he said the word 'Kelsie,' and he brushed a dog, and he had made one small step forward.

I have hundreds of  stories of dogs whose mission is to help people heal, stories that bring people to tears and to a place of wonder. This is but one.  This man seemingly locked inside was wearing his loneliness, but just for a moment opened his heart and allowed a therapy dog inside.  It was one of those moments when words are meaningless.  One of those moments that erases everything bad.  For that moment he was here.  And perhaps, just perhaps, for that moment Miss Kelsie was a bandaid for his loneliness and perhaps for mine too.

"You are alive.  It does not matter how old or how maimed you are, as long as you are alive, anything is possible." 
~Scott Shaw~
Zen O'Clock

Monday, January 18, 2010

CHASING YOUR DREAMS



Sometimes chasing your dreams hurts. Sometimes helping others hurts. And then sometimes you have to put on your 'big girl panties' and keep on marching to the beat of your own drummer, and 'take that leap and build your wings on the way down!' (author Kobi Yamada).

 I learned yesterday that a project I have chased and worked on night and day for almost two  years is 'all about stroking my ego!'  Or so someone has said.  With respect, I ask them to walk in my shoes.  I ask them to write the next book.  I ask them to spend hours and hours and hours finding $5,000.00 to pay for 5,000.00 books to distribute to our wounded warriors returning from Iraq/Afghanistan with life altering injuries.I ask them to work untold hours with a graphic designer getting the layout of the books just right for patients unable to spend long reading, for patients on medication with short attention spans, for patients with prosthetic limbs, with severe burns, with vision problems. I ask them to research hundreds and hundreds of quotes to match to hundreds of photos that have to have releases obtained and attached. I ask them to lift 160 books in a case to the detriment of their back.  I ask them to package and ship them to hundreds and hundreds of soldiers and chaplains in Iraq/Afghanistan to distrubute to those who need them the most. I ask them to do this for free. And sadly, I invite them to find funding for a reprint of the much needed  5,000 books to go to all those soldiers who are severely wounded coming back from Afghanistan, as the war there escalates. 

Well you get the picture.  Sadly, this person will not distribute the books to the wounded warriors or to the deployed and deploying soldiers.  I ask you who is this about? 

I have authored over fifty five books.  None have been about me or my ego and the two, and soon to be three, Pockets of Peace books are the only ones that have come from my guts, my soul.

The Pockets of Peace series of books will go on.  The dream and goal will go on. And the series of books will continue as long as there is a breath left in me. It will go on for the soldiers and for patients taking one step at a time through dark tunnels from severe injuries, amputations, burns, heart disease, strokes, MS, brain tumors, and more, and to children who have lost a parent to war or children who have been sexually molested and abused. It will go on because i know their pain.  I have been there.  Is this all about stroking my ego?

I have a mantra I incessantly preach to my therapy dog teams in the Penny's From Heaven Foundation, the teams that go out into the world to share the special medicine our dogs provide for those who need them the most. "It is not about me - it is not about my dog - it is solely about the patient."

Robert Browning said, " Our aspirations are our possibilities."  My aspiration and my dream with these books is to make a difference, to dry a tear, to change a life if only for a moment.  To me every day that I sit and wait for something to happen is another day wasted.  Yes I give my dreams everything I have in me and just when I think I can't take another step or write another page or wipe away another tear is the moment when I become amazed at the energy that comes out of me.  To me it is an insurmountable aspiration.  How can I possibly make a difference when there is so much suffering, so many people in need, so many soldiers changed in the prime of their life, so many not wanting to live another day, so many struggling to live another day.  How can I make a difference simply by a little book we distribute to those stuck in quicksand.  Here is what keeps me going.  Here is how I manage to hold on.  Here is how I write one more book in the Pockets of Peace series.

Making a Difference




An old man was strolling along a beach one day. In the distance he saw a young boy and girl reach down, pick something up and throw it back into the sea. Drawing nearer, he saw that the sand was littered with thousands of small stranded sand dollars. The children were patiently picking them up, one at a time, and returning them to safety below the water."What are you doing?" he asked. "Saving sand dollars," replied the children as they continued about the job at hand. The old man, somewhat jaded by age, thought the children's actions were futile. "But the beach is littered with dying sand dollars. What possible difference can you make by doing this?"




The young girl bent over, picked up another, and threw it with all her might. With a plop the sand dollar sank safely below the water. Then, turning to the old man, she said with all the wisdom of a child, "I made a difference for that one."

**************

And finally I end today's post with praise for the book. Not for me but the aspiration, the goal, the effort, the grace of God who gave me a little talent, alot of grit and planted the seed. 

"I had seen some samples from the Pockets of Peace book and it looked great, but the actual book exceeded my expectations. It’s wonderful—no wonder it creates such a response in the combat vets!"
--Beth Schietzelt ~ Soldiers’ Angels ~California




“Pockets of Peace” is a beautiful and comforting booklet. Please let us know where we can get more copies. Bless you for all your work for veterans. ~SOUTH TEXAS COMBAT VETERANS


“I have raved about your book to many people to help spread the word. It should be used at every hospital or treatment center for PTSD troubled patients.” ~Tom Criser, Author – The Ghost in the Orange Closet


And most importantly of all from a soldier:
 
"As always God intervened and I was led to a book written by the Penny’s from Heaven foundation. I picked up the book to just look at and read it cover to cover in one sitting. I couldn’t believe that there were others out there, even civilians, that intimately knew what I was going through. For me it was nothing less than a lifesaver on paper. After I finished the book I cried. It was a good cry, and one that I needed for months. I can honestly say that day the door for recovery was opened for me. It was just a little crack, but I could finally see the light, and knew that I was worth saving. All from a book This book changed my life and gave me the courage and strength to meet the ghosts of my recovery head on." ~SSG K. I.
 
******************
 
I thank those of you who support the dreams and aspirations of these books - they are making a difference.  If you would like to contribute to the production of additional books for those who need them the most, please visit, http://www.pennysfromheavenfoundation.org/ and contribute via paypal, check, or credit card.  Your gift will not go unnoticed and you too can wipe away a tear and make a life just a little bit brighter as a door opens to hope and to faith. 
 
The next and third in the series of Pockets of Peace books will be released in a couple of weeks...its title...POCKETS OF PEACE, For Fears, For Tears, For Laughter, Love & Life.  It will go to hospitals, hospice, assisted living, schools, rehabilitation facilities, any and all health care facilities we can touch.  God bless you all for your support, encouragement and love.

***************
"Let me listen to me and not to them."
~Gertrude Stein

"If someone believes in you, and you believe in your dreams, it can happen.
~Tiffany Loren Rowe

Sunday, January 17, 2010

VAYA CON DIOS




Quite early I sit curled up in an afghan with my coffee after a most restless night. In the dark, I turn on the television to find that there is a 'cookie dough shortage!'  Now that is news!  Thousands are dead and dying in Haiti and someone thinks I should know about a potential lack of cookie dough.  I turn off the television.

The book I am holding in my lap, scribbling thoughts on is Veterans and Families Guide to Recovering from PTSD.  I think of all those in Haiti, who will survive after having been witness to horrific haunting images of death and destruction.  I think of the Post Traumatic Stress they will experience for the rest of their lives. I am saddened. Their lives will never again be the same.

Within the framework of such devastation and pain bombarding us on news networks every second of every day, it is important that we take time to find a place to pause.  A place to turn off the television and pause for yourself, for your sanity. It is easy to become flattened. You need to find, and be grateful for 'pockets of peace' - ordinary moments that become triumphs of the spirit.  Moments that sustain us in challenging times and offer dreams, plans, and adventures.  Our lives are our stories.  We often find ourselves facing the all too rough edges of life.  But it is in these moments - these 'pockets of peace' - where, if we are lucky, we find a path that may lead us to a door that reveals hope and courage.

"Fear is never a reason for quitting; it is only an excuse." Norman Vincent Peale

The fear, devastation and chaos erupting in Haiti is a message to all of us to cling close to those we truly love and sometimes,with grace and love, let go of those we have to tell goodbye, whether because of death or because it is simply time to say goodbye.

Yesterday I said good bye to a friend.  A friend who left this earth much too soon.  It was a gift of grace that the family had requested Mac's therapy dogs, Kelsie and Chase, be in attendance at the Celebration of his Life. 
As I sat in the church close to the altar with Kelsie at my feet on her blanket and Chase on his blanket, quietly snoring (and sometimes not so quietly snoring),  I was reminded of Carol Sobieski and Thomas Meehan, quote from Annie, "How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard." This quotation has held me up far too many times.

Following the ceremony, a lady, with tears in her eyes and deep in her soul, approached me holding her Bible clutched to her chest.  With words unspoken, she lowered the Bible, opened it slowly and purposefully, to show me the bookmarks she had tucked inside.  One was my business card and the other a photo of Kelsie I had given her when Kelsie and I first met her in Mac's hospital room.  She told me how after we had left, Mac had told her how much he loved 'Kelsie' and 'Chase' coming to visit him.  She said he thought they were his angels.  But truth be known, today there is another angel up in heaven watching over me.

I miss you sweet friend.  You will always be in my kitchen and in my heart. Tonight I am drinking the Port you brought me! Salud!

"We have been friends together in sunshine and in shade."  ~Caroline Norton

How rare and beautiful is friendship.

********************

"Why can't we get all the people together in the world that we really like and then just stay together? I guess that wouldn't work. Someone would leave. Someone always leaves. Then we would have to say good-bye. I hate good-byes. I know what I need. I need more hellos."
~Charles M. Schulz~ Charlie Brown


"Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some stay for a while, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never, ever the same."
~Flavia

"To spare oneself from grief at all cost can be achieved only at the price of total detachment, which excludes the ability to experience happiness."
~Erich Fromm



To order copies of POCKETS OF PEACE, you are invited to visit:

You may order for a friend, a soldier, or anyone struggling with life's challenges.
For fears, for tears, for strength and courage!
Copies will be autographed upon request and mailed directly to the recipient.
Thank you!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

HOMESPUN WISDOM





I had a talk with 'my' soldier today.  He emailed me at noon, asking me to call.  He wanted to talk, and I wanted to listen.  We talked about purpose and we talked about risk and wasting life. We talked about Haiti and how surreal it all seems, as we sit in our homes with a fridge full of food and water at the touch of a button. We talked about Amos, his friend that was killed in Iraq, and we talked about not ever letting him be forgotten. We talked about taking one step at a time and that sometimes those steps can be pretty huge.  And we talked about him speaking with his brother and finding that his fears regarding that relationship were unfounded.  He had taken the risk and his heart began to fill once again and his purpose for being has been exposed. How many of us can say that? What a blessing for him. 

With risk there is more to be gained than lost.  Staying stagnant is a bigger risk.  It starts in the mind and sometimes requires a huge leap of faith to move into something much larger, not knowing what is around the corner. But it is around that corner that we will find life. It is in these places of silence that you will discover your passion. 

Loneliness and empty places in our lives can be places of grace where we find potential.  Sometimes we have to come to the realization that there are few things in life that matter tremendously.  It is then that we sacrifice our cold lonely place of isolation to discover something soon opens up within us, a place where there are possibilities, a place where we find out who we really are and what stuff we are made of. It is a place where we can discover our purpose.

Later in the day, I found myself with a lump in my throat on a call from special friend.  I had asked him to write a story about what to do when you are tired of being strong.  I felt weak at first, sharing my insecurities with him, but not for long.  We all need someone to be honest with - to be vulnerable with.  He has been honest and vulnerable with me many times and now I am with him.  He simply said, "I understand.  I am sorry."

For some reason later in the afternoon, I remembered my grandmother, 'Nanny' I called her.  She was a remarkable lady (the first woman pharmacist in Oklahoma).  I can see her sitting at her oval dining room table, typing on her 'Underwood' typewriter.  I can hear the keys as she hit them.  I can smell the 'Brilliantine' she put in her curly hair, and I can clearly smell the candied orange slices and the cup of coffee always nearby.  Whenever I felt sad, Nanny was there.  She would hold me tight on her left side, as I went to sleep, and she would tell me she loved me.  She taught me to relax first my feet, then my calves and then the rest of my body.  By the time she finished I had fallen asleep.  She had homespun wisdom.  She offered me an ear, a sip or two of coffee with lots of cream and sugar, and a little thimble full of bourbon for a cough, and she taught me what it felt like to be truly cared for. I don't know that I have ever felt that peace since. 

It is that feeling that I wish to project to 'my' soldiers.  For they have taken the risk and the leap of faith and have paid the price, and they have to invent a new way of being - a new way of living. Some can and some never will.  But in all honesty, don't we all make it up as we go? Pain for the soldiers, and perhaps all of us, can be an invitation to know better. We all need to take the risk,  cry for a life that is no more, and take one step at a time to move on.


I find I love to be in the presence of courageous people who wish to take that risk, discover where life is leading them head held high, and find the heaviness in their hearts lessening.  They have it figured out.  Life is to be lived, to be loved and not simply tolerated. These are the people that build us up and not pull us down.  This is the person I want to be.


On a church sign I read, "If you want to know what's in your heart, listen to your mouth."

Try it.  You just might be surprised.  It might just change your life.

********************

"Life is either a great adventure or nothing."
~Helen Keller

"The GREATEST discovery of any generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering the attitudes of their minds."
Albert Schweitzer




Friday, January 15, 2010

ESCAPE FROM DARKNESS, IF ONLY FOR A MOMENT




Yesterday I found my life in pieces. Betrayal and loss of trust puts us in a fragile place. People intent on hurting us with their own pain and agenda is ultimately destructive and, in this case, final.  Decisions were made that were painful and seemed to rip through me like fire.  But my self esteem and life remained intact, strangely strengthened and peaceful.

Then I found out, and perhaps always knew, that the value of touch is as necessary, valuable and mandatory in our lives as air. The touch of a soldier with acute PTSD reaching out to me by phone with exciting news.  He had made a forty five minute speech to sixty Rotarians.  His topic - PURPOSE. (Please see blog entry - ROSES IN THE SNOW.) He had made a huge step.  The gentle, assured, and compassionate touch of a friend on the phone deep in his own problems, yet loving me and caring at a distance with his voice.  The obsurdity of my little blind comedian of a dog running in circles and lunging into my lap as I sneezed multiple times, thinking it was time to play. The warmth of Kelsie's head on my knee as I sat at the computer for hours on end.  The treasured touch of a friend's kind, supportive and concerned words to me, wanting to 'make it all better' and not certain she had.  Touch. The call from a Lieutenant Colonel, shortly to be deployed to Iraq, just to tell me she loved me and supported me. Despite my pain I found myself surrounded by love.

Life is a circle not a merry-go-round.  Pity simply emphasizes the distance between people where no relationship is possible.  Compassion requires intimacy and compassion brings people together in a mutual process. Using my light to illuminate dark places in others has always been my salvation. It is the place where I feel most alive. Many turn their light inward and bask in the darkness of their own soul.  What a pity. 

Then others struggle valiantly to escape the darkness. Yesterday my enemy became my greatest teacher, as I watched two dogs, Chase and Kelsie, use their light and mere presence to illuminate the light in a young U.S. AirForce Lieutenant named Ashley in the Fisher House at Lackland AirForce Base. As we walked into the home to "Oh look dogs," the reason was clear why we were there.  

Ashley, a young woman in her twenties, never took her eyes off of the dogs.  I explained to the group assembled that these were therapy dogs and were most supportive of our military suffering from PTSD.  To the side I heard Ashley, almost inaudibly, whisper, "I have PTSD."  She sat down on the floor and encompassed both dogs with tears pouring from her eyes.  For a moment she had found her home, her safe place, and non-threatening love.

In a pale pink sweater with a grey scarf wrapped around her neck and flawless complexion, she looked like a model.  Cell phones came out and cameras flashed at the recognition of the most precious kind of love.  Pure and clean and true and uncomplicated.  Chase snuggled up close and rolled over onto his back.  With ears laid back this teddy bear of a lab showed Ashley that life was safe in this time and place.  Kelsie laid down next to her and placed her head on her leg to provide further warmth and comfort with her touch.  With multiple other people in the room how did these dogs know Ashley needed them the most? 



Ashley's story is long and tumultuous.  She spent time hospitalized in Landsthul, Ramstein, Walter Reed and arriving at Wilford Hall at Lackland AFB in San Antonio, TX, literally with no clothes or luggage.  But the only place she wants to be is in Belgium with the man she loves and will be marrying, as soon as they are able. We ate Mexican food prepared by the USO for the residents of the Fisher House (http://www.fisherhouse.org/ ), we talked, we listened, we shared, and we witnessed, as a little light opened up a dark place in Ashley's soul.  She held Chase close, as her tears turned into an exquisite soft, almost angelic, smile. She felt safe in our presence and shared with us that her fiance has a brain tumor and his anticipation is 'quality of time together not quantity.'  I was once again reminded that life is made up of moments, and it is in these moments that life is found - and great love. 

Ashley shared with us that she needed an anacronym that provides her comfort - SACOATA.  When you are around enough military everything must have an anacronym!  This one she made up to give her strength, confidence and hope.  "Supreme Allied Commander of all Things Awesome." 

Funny how she ultimately ended up helping me on this Thursday night.

I would have missed Ashley, if we had never met!


*************
"Life is like a banquet, and some poor suckers are starving to death. Live- live - live."

Rosalind Russell
Auntie Mame 1953