Sunday, February 28, 2010


Okay am I wrong thinking it is just a tad strange and disturbing to receive an email advertisement for a "bullet proof vest?"  Now mind you this is the same day I got a  real letter in an envelope, in my mail box for "Prepaid Creamation!" 

In the quandry of these extraordinary temptations, I find sometimes it requires great courage to simply go about the day-to-day business of living  and navigating its trappings without having to be concerned over the absurdities found in mail boxes.

With earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, war, and famine you would think the human race would have given up by now.  But we keep on.  And most of us keep on regardless of what is thrown in our path, because we believe in possibilities.  Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche said, "What does not destroy me, makes me stronger." But you know as well as I, that simply knowing this does not make tough times any easier, at least not while we are going through them. 

Perhaps the reason we get stronger is not because we go through tough times, but because we have to call upon our best selves to find our way through.  We have to draw upon humor, courage and patience and whatever inner resources allow us to survive to be led to a place where we find we are stronger and more resilient. Facing turmoil and upheaval can bring possibilities for new ideas and new actions, or new love, or miracles.Or these times can be used as excuses for withdrawing from life, avoiding risk, hunkering down and protecting ourselves.

What do you do?

We don't have to have a bullet proof vest or make elaborately detailed plans about how we're going to lead our lives.  We can trust ourselves, set our course and pledge to hang in there, whatever comes up.  Ultimately, in the end this is the most courageous and powerful thing we can do.

Two days ago a friend sent me a birthday card telling me I was a 'powerful' woman.  At first I stunned by the word. Then I thought about it and decided perhaps she was right.  Life never goes quite like we want it to and more often than not we are thrown curve balls just when we don't need them.  But it is the way we handle them that keeps us from drowning or sinking in quicksand.  For me, I am here and I am staying, and whatever life throws at me, I will stay the course.  I will take action. For our actions can be intoxicating and consuming. My actions will be my legacy. 

 I feel sad for those who are afraid to take that life saving step forward, and for those who haven't found  that one rich, sparkling, illuminating, spectacular passion in life that makes them feel grace, and vibrant, and alive, and jubilant. For it is in this feeling that worlds can be crafted and lives changed. Why would we want to live any other way? Step out of your box, inhale, exhale, and remember how tenuous and miraculous we are.  And that we can dance on the edge, build sand castles, discover treasures, and be transported toward possibilities in  this one chaotic, crazy, unpredictable thing called life - a life that is a swervy place where the ground shifts and the moon pulls and we can be totally and completely enchanted by second chances and possibilities.


"I've got something inside of me, peasantlike and stubborn, and I'm in it till the end of the race."
~Truman Capote~


If you would like to discuss speaking engagements regarding Animal Assisted Therapy or Inspirational/Motivational speaking engagments for your church or group,  please contact Patsy Swendson at 210 273 6471.

"You all were the best of the whole program (YELLOW RIBBON PROGRAM). It is so nice to see that people understand what animals do for us. They are Therapy!!! I know this from my own experience. I would love as much info that you can give me so I can help and be empowered to join and help with your group. I will be following your blog without a doubt. Just let me know how to get started."
Take care and thanks for contacting me so quickly.
Peggy F

My name is Sina Teofilo and I am a contractor for the Texas Army National
Guard Yellow Ribbon Program and I just wanted to say that the staff and the
overall program is wonderful!! The first time I saw your organization
attend our event was last month in San Antonio at the Crowne Plaza Hotel.
The feedback that we received on our surveys was overwhelming with comments
on your organization and how great you all were with the service members and
their families. I just wanted to say thank you to your staff because they
were friendly and very informative. I hope you all know how helpful and
beneficial your program is. It is one of a kind and I hope that it
continues to grow and prosper. Thank you for all that you do.

Sina Teofilo
Yellow Ribbon Support Specialist
Contractor for Army National Guard


You are right – we owe our warriors so, so much for all they do, and have done, for us. Thank you for your work with them.
Gloria Gilbert Stoga
Founder/ Executive Director Puppies Behind Bars
New York, NY

Just got the book and love it. I will send you $500 for printing and $25 for books to distribute to my soldiers.
God bless.
Platoon Mom Elaine

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

“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.


Saturday, February 27, 2010


To each of you reading this blog with any consistency THANK YOU.  Your generous contributions to Penny's From Heaven Foundation allow us to continue to provide POCKETS OF PEACE inspirational and motivational books to our deployed and deploying soldiers, as well as our wounded heroes and their families. 

Yesterday I received this letter and a Certificate of Appreciation for recognition of our contributions in support of the 1st Battalion, 64th Armored Regiment during Operation Iraqi Freedom VII.  Saying, "Your time, efforts and contributions are greatly appreciated by the Soldiers of the "Desert Rogue" Battalion.  Thank you for all that you do in support of the United States Army and our Great Nation!" 

Signed personally, by LTC Richard R. Coffman. 

His following letter to me was humbling.

"Dear Penny's From Heaven Foundation,

I want to express my sincere appreciation for the kindness and selflessness that you have shown to the Soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment.  My Soldiers, the Desert Rogues, have put in hours of work without so much as one complaint, and they are achieving mission success.  Gratitude is truly shown on their faces when they receive a care package, and the time and effort you spent putting together these wonderful gifts is very much appreciated by all who receive them. 

We thank you for all you have done and continue to do for the Desert Rogues.  Your actions demonstrate true American pride in supporting our magnificient U.S. Forces, and you greatly enhance our morale as we endeavor in the GLOBAL WAR ON TERRORISM.  Again, I thank you for the support that you have shown my Battalion and to our great Nation.

Richard R. Coffman

I find it awe inspiring and  down right humbling,  for them to write and thank us from a war zone worlds away! 

They are fighting every second of every day for us, for our freedom, for the United States - and yet they find the time to thank us for sending care packages and Pockets of Peace books! 

I wonder how many of us take time out to even think of thanking them?  A few positive words can turn out to be exactly the solace someone needs.  We need to be mindful of what we say and what we don't say.

As you read this today, please continue to pray for their safety.  And if you can find it in your heart please continue to financially assist us in our efforts to send more inspiring and motivational books to our troops. They are helping and appreciated!!

So today as I head off to a Yellow Ribbon event with hundreds of soldiers and their families let us all remember to ask God  to Bless Our Troops and to Bless the United States of America!

"To quietly and peacefully go about our business sometimes requires great courage.  Events in the world or in our own lives may make us want to scream and wail, tear our hair out, or beat our heads against a wall.  But we don't do any of those things.  We square our shoulders, look straight ahead, and carry out our daily routines.  We try to restore normality to what feels like chaos."

~Linda Picone~

"You have it easily in your power to increase the sum total of this world's happiness now.  How?  By giving a few words of sincere appreciation to someone who is lonely or discouraged.  Perhaps you will forget tomorrow the kind words you say today, but the recipient may cherish them over a lifetime."

~Dale Carnegie~

Friday, February 26, 2010


"To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment." 
~Ralph Waldo Emerson~

I adore that quote!  I really adore it!  It is me.  And truth be known it took me way too long to understand that this is the only way to live.  I feel certain that there are those who do not care for me, are envious or jealous or don't like the color of my hair or lipstick or whatever!  But you know what?  That is okay and just fine with me.  They don't have to like me. They just have to get out of my way. And I mean that in the most respectful, honest, and sincere way. They don't know what it is like to walk in my shoes, anymore than I know what it is to walk in theirs.

Passion elevates the spirit and heart to great things and not everyone has this passion. To spend time criticizing, gossiping, whispering, or grumbling about another person is madness.  It is also equally mad to spend time listening to it. 

Maya Angelou says it best, "Life loves to be taken by the lapel and told, 'I'm with you kid. Let's go.'" Who has time for frivolous gossip or meaningless chitchat when there is so much life to be lived? There are kind words to be said and loving and compassionate words to be said and words of gratitude and appreciation to be shared.  Disregard the people who have nothing nice to say.  They eat up your time and your spirit! 

Today I met a Korean War veteran at the rehab hospital while I was there with Kelsie.  He instantly noticed the PTSD SUPPORT DOG patch on her vest and the SOLDIER'S ANGEL patch.  He told me he was a veteran of the Korean War.  As I always do, I thanked him for his service to our country.  In seconds, tears came to his eyes and rolled down his cheeks.  I took his hand and sat next to him. With great sorrow, he explained to me that I was the first person that had ever said that to him.  Can you imagine? I was the first person who had ever thanked him for his sacrifices and service.  He had been surrounded by troops dying in front of him, troops he had to leave bleeding to death on the battlefield.  He witnessed things I choose to not share with you because of their graphic nature.  But suffice it to say, he, at the very least, deserves to be appreciated and thanked for his service and sacrifices. 

It raised the question, what is wrong with people?  Why was this man never appreciated for what he gave? Why was he never thanked?

He loved on Kelsie, petting her endlessly, as I told him about her work with our wounded warriors. We talked about people being so consumed in their own lives they have little time for anything or anybody else.  We talked about people who have no desire to know what our soldiers are enduring hourly in Iraq or Afghanistan, or are completely disinterested.  I told him my car was packed with 'baby wipes' and toothpaste and toothbrushes to send to the troops who have no running water and no ability to bathe for weeks!  We talked about how we take running hot water for granted, pillows and clean sheets, and how these guys must use dirt to clean themselves.  "Nothing has changed," he said. 

"Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen." We need to weigh the words we say, we need to find value in them, we need to say thank you. 

I know there are people that have no interest in what I say or speak or write about, and they are not afraid to tell others what they think.  Many times people are so busy planning the next thing that they want to say that they barely hear what anyone else has to offer.  Words can be powerful weapons, some more painful in their own way, than bullets.  A few ugly words, or the lack of a few loving words, can make others break and cry in sadness or anger.  Constant criticism can make anyone feel inadequate.  No good ever comes of making others feel bad.  Satisfaction found from flinging ugly words fades quickly, and the pain of these words eventually comes back on the person who said them one way or another.

Today make it a point to not break someone's spirit or passion.  Say thank you.

I personally admire people who just keep going, without bragging or feeling the need to tell everyone about it.  Try being one of those people! It is what our soldiers do everyday!!


"To know even one life has breathed eaiser because you have lived.  This is to have succeeded."
~Ralph Waldo Emerson~

"In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different."
~Coco Chanel~

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Thursday, February 25, 2010


Never settle for the path of least resistance!  It is too easy, too mundane, too expected. And most of all it isn't interesting, in fact it is just plain boring. It gets you nowhere fast! Life means taking chances.  And I guarantee, in the long run, they are worth taking.  Sure it can be risky, but not taking chances can keep you stuck, unhappy, stagnant, unhealthy, sad, bored, and needy. 

Sure just breathing can be risky, let alone trusting and reaching out to a life that just might be the most glorious leap of faith you have ever taken.  This is the no guts no glory thing.  Without risk there is no hope and certainly no faith.

I have watched far too many people go through the same routine daily, always taking the path of least resistance.  They have no zest for living, for finding what might be around the corner, if they traveled a different direction.  I have watched as they tip toe into life and love and a new path, to become fearful and go running back to what is safe - or what they simply and wrongly perceive as safe.

For it is in the unexpected, the spontaneous, and the risks that you find life.

A trip to the 'island' last week brought the unexpected and the spontaneous and a renewed zest for life.  Through the fog and mist and rain, life became more clear.  My path and my direction more spectacular.  The waves crashing to shore with their thunderous roar tended to wash the cobwebs from my head and clean away the clutter. So I will not let the waves in the distance frighten me.  I will cross my fingers and say a little prayer when the road gets messy, and when I am not certain of north and south. And then I will jump in with both feet!

I do know this.  I have a powerful sense of resilience and perseverance. That isn't to say that pain and grief and sincere aggravation and impatience aren't there.  But I put on my wading boots and muddle through the quick sand.  Because I don't have time to mess with the mundane, the ordinary, and the boring. Sure we are all given mountains to cross and the journey isn't always a piece of cake.  But what happens if we don't even try?  What happens if fear stops us dead in our tracks? We die without ever having lived. Our purpose for being on this earth is wasted and our passion never revealed.


"Let the music move you, let the moment take your hand, let it lead you out into the middle of the dance floor and embrace you.  Dive off the high board.  Ride with the top down. Thrive like a wildflower and sing
 (who cares what you sound like) with a voice all your own." 
~Mark D. Sanders and Tia Sillers~ 

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Is your life full of empty pleasures?

Leaving days and days of cold and rain behind in San Antonio, my best friend for decades and I went to the 'island' armed with suntan lotion, beach chairs, ice chests, and a beach umbrella in vibrant colors of hot pink, bright yellow and sky blue.  We were looking forward to the warmth  of a spring South Texas sky.  What we found was rain, more rain, cold temperatures and fog - lots and lots of fog. Despair could have set in and been presumptuous.  We could have said the trip is ruined, now what are we going to do! We had every right to - or did we?

Maybe just maybe somethings are not meant to be solved.  Maybe we have to sit smack dab in the middle of them and enjoy! We had gone to the island in search of perfection or control.  What we found was that where we were was perfect just the way it was.

We shopped, we ate, we slept late, we watched old movies, a favorite being Stephen Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  You remember the one, where the aliens leave the space ship and walk through the fog and mist toward the 'earthlings.' We celebrated my birthday at Zeste  on South Padre Island with 'tapas' of soft shell crab, marinated artichoke hearts, a Spanish torta, quesadillas with pollo, with a finale sampler plate of exotic chocolate Truffles - Cajeta with Sel Gris, Ancho & Cinnamon, Wasabi Sesame, and Dried Cherry with Cracked Pepper. And an ending of a most amazing award winning Port from Texas Hills Vineyard in Johnson City, TX, and I will confess a slice of a perfect homemade Coconut Cream Pie.  A birthday to remember.

Listening to the weather on television offered little hope of sun.  Then realities of the blessed present moments bubbled to the surface and intervened into decisions to live right then, right there.  Live vibrantly in the vivid colors of our beach umbrella, live with laughter, live with joy, live without regret or despair.  As we did so events began unfolding that were extraordinary.  We went to a family owned and operated book store, Paragraph's Books, and found Sophie, the bookstore dog, sitting on the counter waiting to be adored.  We visited the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center and found the colors we so missed in the fog, as we saw the vibrant pink Roseate Spoonbill, a  four foot Great Blue Heron, the Common Moorhen with a cherry red beak, a snow white White Ibis and a Snowy Egret. Later we found light in the fog at the Lighthouse on Laguna Madre Bay at Port Isabel and met the Kemp's Ridley turtle (the rarest and most endangered of the five species found in the Gulf of Mexico) at the Sea Turtle, Inc, Rescue Center founded in 1977 by Ila Loetchser, the Turtle Lady of South Padre Island. .  And we went to an annual Island dog costume event at Louie's Backyard, celebrating the human companion animal bond, Ditter Dog - Island Style!  And later to the Farmer's Market with vibrant colored produce of every description.

The afternoon ended with a trip to the beach.  We loaded the car in  DENSE FOG, drove to the beach, and carried our beach chair and rattan mats, books, snacks, water, and sun glasses in baskets to the waters edge.  We found several  fishermen casting lines into the surf, two young men sitting on driftwood with their laptop, and families walking, but there were quite literally no other brave souls sitting in beach chairs waiting for the sun to shine.  Upon closer observation it was soon apparent that people thought we were nuts. But we didn't care. We found it amusing. There was a tiny, very tiny, patch of blue overhead and we were going to be ready!  As the fog became more dense, two couples stopped and asked if they could take our pictures.  And so they did!  No doubt we are quite the hit for condos full of  'Winter Texans.'

But you know what?  We put jackets on and placed beach towels over our legs to keep from freezing.  We laughed hysterically as people walking down the beach towards us appeared to be aliens from 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind.' Proud of our adventure, we sent text messages to friends in colder climates, telling them we were sitting on the beach in a blanket of fog. 

We had been blessed.  We knew we had a choice - we could fight it, get mad, sit and pout and grumble, but we made a choice.  A choice to live in the moment - to laugh in the moment.  And these moments will turn out to be some of the most memorable of my life. Other trips to the beach have come and gone and faded in my memory, but never this one. 

There is not any situation that can't be handled with grace and a little laughter. Life is what you make of it.  This trip we found vibrant colors and sunshine...not in the anticipated places, but in the colors of fresh produce, costumes on dogs, colorful patterns of endangered turtle's shells, and the pink of the Roseate Spoonbill and the deep chocolatey red of a fine aged Port. 

Some things are not meant to be experienced or solved or grumbled about or merely tolerated.  Some things are meant to be enjoyed just the way they are, accepted, and experienced with the heart. Sometimes things that on the surface might appear to be disappointing can, with a change of attitude, become exaulted in glory. The fog held secrets that could have acted as a veil.  But joy of life and living in the moment cannot be hidden or lost in fog. Not if you don't want it to.

This was a journey I shall not forget.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


I have more people than I ever expected tell me that for years they can't read my writing because it makes them tear up, cry, or down right sob. 

I wonder what it is in us that doesn't allow us to be human - to be honest.  Is it embarrassing, frightening, risky, or does it wake us up and take us to a place where we have to confront our vulnerability and humaness?

My writing is intimate, honest, and I hope brave.  Not writing from that intense and honest place inside is not writing the truth.  For me it is difficult, no it is impossible, to put words on paper when I am not being honest.  Writing or telling the truth takes me to a deeper place, whether in life, relationships, or revalations.

Sometimes it is excruciating and then sometimes refreshing.  But it is always honest. So today ask yourself if  perhaps this is a place some of you shy away from.

This morning I wrote from bed, watching the rain falling like a soft blanket of peace on the bay at South Padre Island.  The world here is in shades of gray.  I listen to Josh Groban sing, "like the sound of silence calling," and I feel an underlying sense of sadness and yet an overwhelming sense of peace.  The world is still for me this morning.  I am used to the friendship of loneliness.

So as I actually write with pen and paper, I find I am sad for a friend who told me this week that he was fundamentally 'not happy' and another tell me he 'was just trying to stay alive.'  It was interesting that in their honesty to tell me the truth, they found the precise language to say it. As in my writing, I must find the precise words that are not polished or false to convey a message, a thought, or pain.  Again I ask why do we live in places where our souls aren't ?

To tell the truth is exhausting, but detrimental to do it any other way. My writing must leave no doubt as to what I am telling you, or not telling myself.  So I write about what I darn well want to.  There is enough bitterness and falsehood in writing and in life. So yes perhaps there is an energy to my writing, an emotional ability to touch people in a place inside of them where they find tears that need to be released.  And that is good, and that is real ,and that is honest, and should be held close to the heart.

I have an extraordinary one hundred year old eight foot table whose top was once a floorboard from a  farm house in Poland.  This table holds stories and beauty and clarity and truth.  Not polished, not hiding deformities, it is honest in its realness.  I love and am humbled by this table, as it does not hide the past, the mistakes, the love, the footprints of life as it reveals itself.

So yes, revealing myself might make others uncomfortable or sad, because they might be caught up in choosing to hide from the reality of their own lives.  Author Julia Cameron, writes in The Right to Write, "They might just not want to know what they know. So they stear clear of the page and the clarity that it affords them."  She continues, "The truth  is not always pleasant, but the results of truth are a solid sense of self, a safe sense of possibility and a companion to walk us from the life that we've got now into the life we would like better."

So today in the fog on the island, I write to plunge deeper into who I am, to be brave, caring, and vulnerable.
Today and most days, I write about something that touches me, and I write these things to share and touch someone else.

And today I invite you to open your eyes to life, with all of its pain, deformities, and confusion.  For this is facing the truth. Cowering in a corner hiding  fills your life with empty pleasures, as you get lost in extremes of fear, indulgences, distractions, or avoidances, that keep you out of balance.  Don't let your life become a record of all the things you wish you had done, might have done, or should have done.

Letting go of what we had once hoped for, what we had thought our lives would or should be, allows us to be fully present right where we are right now.  Perhaps it is in this letting go of what we think defines us that we come face to  face with the fear of being empty, alone, or deprived.  But we also just might find life. Jack Kornfield in Soul Food, says "Letting go of our fear and habits allow a more spacious wisdom to emerge." 

Maybe, just maybe it is all the stuff, all the crap, that we go through and endure that keeps us moving forward.  Maybe letting go of our fear is exactly what we need. Perhaps that is where we find the truth and life.

Monday, February 22, 2010


I was recently in the IGA on South Padre Island, Tx waiting in line to check out.  Next to me was a guy that had to be 6'2".  Feeling very short at just under five feet, I looked at him, laughed, and told him that I felt "quite short."  He just laughed, smiled, and with great wisdom told me that "as long as your feet are on the ground you aren't short ." 

I got it.  He was right! This guy in Tommy Bahama shorts and flipflops had hit the nail on the head, on this my annual trek to the ocean for my birthday.  I am not short!

'If you're ever lying on a beach with 80 billion grains of sand beneath you, 700 thousand ocean waves before you, 60 million stars stretched out above you, and you're still not at all impressed, I want you to think about this:  The light you see reflecting from the stars is over one million years old.
But then, just before you start to feel like a mere blip in the gigantic scheme of things, please remember this?  Yes, you are small, but you're also irreplaceable and invaluable, and miraculous.  Those stars don't have anything on you.'

 ~Mark D. Sanders and Tia Sillers~
I Hope You Dance

So whether I stand beside the 'tall guy' in the grocery store on an island in the Gulf of Mexico, or beside the ocean, I still feel small.  But I also feel blessed, grateful, courageous, hopeful, resilient, hopeful, and believe that tomorrow just could be better than today, and that I will get a second chance, and I will make a difference, and that I do truly matter.  And just when I least expect it - I find my heart in my throat when I stoop to pick up a seashell on the sand and rise to see the sun setting in a tropical array of orange, auburn, and yellow - I am overcome with awe. 

Thursday, February 18, 2010


There are some people in this world that have an amazing and instant ability to walk into a room and it lights up.  What a gift!  What a blessing!  Colleen, a soldier, is just such a person.  You look at her smile and you smile.  It is quite  impossible not to. I have always wanted to be that kind of person. 

Julia Cameron in "Walking in this World" hit the nail on the head when she wrote, 'Panic is an escalating sense of terror that can feel as if we are being flooded and immobilized by the glare of change.  It is rooted in "I know where I want to go, but how am I going to get there?" 

It is easy to say you begin with a single step.  But fear and panic can leave us stuck, stranded, and not living the life we want to live.  Our imagination takes over, and it is then that negativity rises to the surface, and you tuck your tail and run back to where you 'think' you feel safe.  But in reality you really aren't safe or even where you want to be.  You aren't happy.  You make excuses.  You find yourself lying and hurting those you love the most and those that love you the most, to avoid the panic of change.  We expect snipers and catrastrophes at every corner.  We obsess, we worry, we fear, we hurt people, we put up stumbling blocks, we develop artistic moves that keep us as far from fear and panic as possible - or so we think.  All of this indicates we are sitting smack dab on the brink of worrying about worrying. Sounds a little stupid doesn't it?

What if we were to focus all of this energy expended on negativity that inhabits our very being into the positive?  Just perhaps this worry can become something else - something positive.  What if there were a switch and we could turn off fear, worry, panic and negativity?  Where then would we be?

The first step is scary.  We are afraid of being afraid, and scared of being scared.  And all too often this escalates into panic. And in the saddest cases of all into inertia.  When that happens lives are broken - and hearts. This life, this only life we have, is lost to us. Perhaps there is hope and perhaps that hope lies in braving the chaos and waiting calmly.  You most likely know the answer, just not how to get there.

Julia Cameron says, "When fear enters our lives, it is like a mouse scurrying across the floor of our creative consciousness."    She continues that when you feel afraid you must tell yourself that 'this is good, not bad.  Tell yourself  that this fear is a 'heightened energy available for productive use.' 

Fear is based on a 'simple lack of accurate information,' allowing the worry to become 'a bogeyman who keeps us from entering the gates to our dreams.' We need to accept them as messengers rather than terrorists.  And it is then we can begin to understand, and we can then share our fear with others and not closet it away.  And it is in this sharing that our burden is lessened and healing can begin.

Are we resilent enough to do this?  Are we strong enough, courageous enough?  Is it possible we are addicted to fear? Only change will lead us to true happiness and a place where we can reach our full potential.  But sometimes we are as afraid of change as we are afraid of fear.  We get caught up in survivor mode, which in turn causes us to get stuck once again. And again more lives are demolished.

True intimacy and happiness comes from revealing our true selves to another.  Someone we trust, someone who does not judge us, someone who loves us just the way we are. Then the door opens to begin taking risks, one at a time.  Then once in a while pain and emptiness will reappear in our lives when we allow ourselves the opportunity to be distracted. As long as we are distracted by work, by wrong relationships or marriages, by busyness, and addictions, we don't have to face the fear.  How very sad.

Perhaps our internal house needs to be redecorated.  Get a new sofa, sweep the floor and for your sake- your life -  move on so that the deepest and truest parts of ourselves can come out and breathe. We must move off of the threshold where we find we are unable to separate ourselves from ways of living we have become so used to that our souls are cramped.

I told a good friend last week that I had been diagnosed with Panic Disorder.  He looked at me,  and said, "I am honored and I am humbled that you told me.  Thank you.  I think more of you now than I ever did before."  I was suddenly free.  What an amazing feeling. I had faced my demons and I was free.  Free to be me and live my life any way I want.

As for Colleen, I don't know her background at all, and I don't have to.  All I know is that when she is in the living room at the Lackland AFB Fisher House with our working therapy dogs, the world is brighter and lighter and the furthest thing from my mind is fear and worry.  Perhaps we all need a Colleen in our lives.  Someone who smiles and loves us and provides a place where we feel safe for all the right reasons.  Not barricaded in our closet, our office, our house with the door shut, keeping happiness away.


"When a person feels like a victim all the time, they don't see the people they have hurt."
~Susan Peabody~

"How many cares one loses when one decides not to be something but to be someone."
~Coco Chanel~

"Feel the fear - do it anyway!"
Author Unknown

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


I had first met James on Christmas Eve, December 24th, 2008. He appeared fun-loving, humorous, courteous, handsome, and heavily tattooed. He was in The Barracks processing out for eighteen days of Christmas leave. He was excited to be flying to North Carolina to see his eighteen month old son that he hadn’t seen in fourteen months.

James had been a firefighter in New York and was in the 'second tower' when the plane hit on 911.  After that he was deployed to Iraq three times and was in twenty three IED (improvised explosive devices) explosions.  Injured multiple times, James now faces acute PTSD/TBI and accompanying anger issues.

He also struggles with short term memory loss and lack of cognitive reasoning. He can’t remember how to tie his shoe laces, and jokes his little baby boy will have to help him.

Kelsie, my golden retriever/lab and a Penny's From Heaven Foundation Soldier's Angel Support Dog, goes to him like they are long lost friends. She nuzzles his neck and works her way up to his ear with her nose. He tells me how his first wife couldn’t handle his PTSD, and how now he is engaged. He and his fiancĂ© have been best friends for many, many years, and have taken it one step further. She is there for him during his severe attacks in the middle of the night and won’t go back to bed until James can sleep. “With her I have complete trust. I feel safe.”

James tells me how his fiance's dogs offer him such comfort when he is having an attack. “They don’t judge me or ask me how they can help. They are simply there.” He says he is tired of people asking how they can help. They can’t. But when his dogs are around it is better. He can relax. His heart rate lowers and the panic lessens. I understood.

On this night before Christmas, I watched as James went to the 'help' counter in The Barracks to try and get some assistance regarding getting a RX refilled for his trip. It is a long unnecessarily tedious ordeal. His anger issues start to surface, and then good sense took over as he laughs and says, “I was in 911! I have been deployed three times to a war zone! I have lived through 23 IED explosions only God knows how, and I've been seriously injured three times, and now I can’t get a simple prescription refilled.”  I liked him immediately.
I gave him some toys to take to his baby boy. He thanked me and asked if I would be able to come back and visit him after Christmas. We had talked about maintaining a sense of humor, and how vital it is for survival! He seemed to appreciate what I had to say. I didn’t judge him or ask how I could help. Like Kelsie I was simply there…to listen.

Two weeks later he phoned me from the airport in San Antonio telling me he was home and asking if I could  bring Kelsie to come visit him.  The next day we saw James for  the second time. We met in The Barracks' day room and soon he curled up on the sofa with Kelsie and they slept!  
James is extraordinary. He is a true American hero. Perhaps not written up in the newspapers but one of a multitude that have returned from serving our country and sacrificing a great deal. His life will never be the same.  I know mine won’t either after meeting him.

So for now, I will phone James occasionally and remind him when we met and about Kelsie. We will sit and talk about life and war and panic attacks. And I will show him how to tie his shoe laces.


"It is not about finding the right words; it's about finding the time."
Author Unknown

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Forty two years later, with a tear in his eye, John still remembers Bandit, a frightened, starving puppy he first met deep in the jungles of Vietnam. “Bandit was a tiny little thing, struggling like most to just survive life in this war torn country.” When John reached down and scooped this little puppy into his arms, life changed for both of them. During John’s service, Bandit went everywhere with him. John made a promise to the pup that he would always take care of him and make sure he was safe - no matter what.

I met John at the rehab hospital. As Gracie and I were signing out, John was at the reception desk asking about an ‘old army buddy' who was hospitalized there. He instantly was drawn to Gracie, resplendent ( I love that word) in her royal blue vest decorated with the American flag and the Soldier’s Angel pin. He asked about her and what she did at the hospital. I told him all about her work and mentioned that she spent a great deal of time with the wounded soldiers at BAMC. John shared about his little dog at home and how he was ‘more people than dog.’ Then, as if a ghost had entered the room, the conversation took a completely different turn and memories of another time and place surfaced.

We walked together out of the hospital and John told me about the ‘war room’ in his home, and about the only photo that he had had enlarged and framed after his tour in Vietnam, - a photo of Bandit-  the only thing he wanted to remember.

Then, as if it were yesterday, he solemnly told me of one dark night in Vietnam when his platoon was in the jungle under heavy gunfire from the enemy. Bandit had been left in the vehicle when the attack came. “Bullets were flying over us and all I could hear was Bandit crying. I wanted to go get him, but my buddies yelled at me that I would be killed.” “You’ll never make it. Don't do it!”

“I told them to ‘cover me’ as I ran to the jeep to get the puppy. I knew I might not make it, but I couldn’t let him die.” He reached the puppy and grabbed him up into his arms. He said Bandit was 'shaking and crying and peeing all over himself,' he was so scared.   John never thought twice; he had made a promise. “We were a team. He was my buddy.”

The time came for John to leave Vietnam. He gave Bandit to a friend that would be there for a while longer, hoping that all would have a happy ending. A few months after arriving home, he heard from his friend that he too had fallen in love with the pup and had managed to get Bandit to the states. “I never heard from them again. But my promise to Bandit had been kept.”

As John walked me to my car, I thanked him for sharing his beautiful story with me. As he reached down to pet Gracie one last time, the look in his eyes told me he was thinking of another dog many, many years ago that had touched his heart in an extraordinary way. A dog whose life he had saved, and in many ways had saved his.

Sometimes it takes a lot of courage to keep a promise.

"Losers make promises they often break. Winners make commitments they always keep."
~Denis Waitley~

"All that is worth cherishing begins in the heart, not the head."
~Suzanne Chapin~

"Seasons change, friends move away, and life goes on from day to day. Flowers fade and streams go dry and many times we wonder why. Yet we can always be assured because God tells us in His Word, that unlike changes in the weather, love goes on and lasts forever!"
~Author Unknown~


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Monday, February 15, 2010


We are a resilient people. Or at least, on occasions, I try to convince myself so.

The thesaurus tells me ‘hardy, tough, resistant, buoyant, flexible and pliable.’ But do we feel that way when we get knocked down, and we don’t end up with the life we always dreamed about? Sometimes we break and bleed and aren't sure how to listen to that little voice inside that says we must go on - we can't give up.

We fight our own battles, try to do good for others,  remind ourselves that there are many much worse off, and that we are really and truly blessed. But there are some times we aren’t so tough and resistant. Sometimes it just plain hurts. Sometimes it is hard to put one foot in front of the other. And then sometimes we come face to face with a powerful message.

The sacrifices we make for people we’ve never met are often the most meaningful. This joy allows us to live on a higher level. Finding our passion is finding that which makes our heart sing. For me this is what makes time disappear. This is what makes the difference. This is why I am up at 4:30 every morning. I let the dogs outside, make coffee, and settle down to reflect and write, becoming lost in strings of words that hopefully will convey meaning or hope to someone - or perhaps no one at all. I forget the calendar, the meetings, the phone calls to be returned, the refrigerator that needs cleaning, the car that needs washing, and the lists. The story is written, read and reread and then finally I put my stamp on it and then not satisfied ‘tweak’ it again, never completely satisfied with the words I have piled together. In the process, time vanishes.

According to my favorite poet, Mary Oliver writes in Blue Pastures, “My loyalty is to the inner vision, whenever and howsoever it may arrive. If I have a meeting with you at three o’clock, rejoice if I am late. Rejoice even more if I do not arrive at all.”

So this day and others will pass and tomorrow will come. And tomorrow will all too soon be ‘once upon a time’. The lesson I have learned from my own loneliness is best said by Charles Swindoll in Bedside Blessings, “Solitude is sometimes essential. Silence is necessary. Words from others usually distract. In the soul-searching of our lives, we are to stay quiet so we can hear Him say all that He wants to say to us in our hearts.”

So I will continue to try to not get bogged down in what could have been, what isn’t, and what most likely never will be. Or at least I will give it another good try.

I will chisel away at the anchors of the past and continue to pursue my objectives for the future. I will seize tomorrow by the throat, take a giant leap of faith, and pursue every minute on this earth with heartfelt, genuine, and careful attention.


"Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak.  Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen ."
~Winston Churchill~


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To order the POCKETS OF PEACE Series of Motivational Inspirational Books for a donation of 4.00 per book, please visit:
You may pay by credit card, paypal or check.
We are a 501 (c)(3) non profit organization.

Books may be ordered and shipped directly to those serving in our Armed Forces or to anyone struggling with a myraid of problems.

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Sunday, February 14, 2010


I must confess I unravel easily.  Just ask any of my friends.  I try to hang on, 'get a grip', 'suck it up buttercup', and yes, sometimes fake it and sometimes eventually make it.  I even try the "in twenty years will this really matter" thing and still unravel.  But the good news is I admit it. Sometimes I laugh about it later and sometimes not and sometimes it isn't a pretty picture. 

I try and focus on the good stuff and say aloud, 'This too shall pass."  But the thread is pulled and the unraveling process begins.  This is when I should get centered.  I am not proud of this trait, nor of my lack of patience.  But I try.  Each time I try. I guess that is something. And everybody has to have something!!

This past week a phone call brought a bitter and sad disappointment that caused me to begin the unraveling process. Upon closer scrunity it wasn't really my friend's fault, rather mine, who had set myself up to be disappointed - which actually made me feel worse.  I couldn't blame him. This disappointment was followed by a soldier who shared with me that her fiance has brain cancer. It doesn't look good for him. I intensely feel her pain deep in my core. Later, I sat down for a pity party for her, for me, for everyone suffering, which wasn't too difficult with all the gloomy cold rain coming down. 

But yesterday the sun came out and I made eighty-seven omelets for the wounded warriors and their families at the Warrior Family Support Center at Brooke Army Medical Center.  I have this ability, good or bad, to look into eyes and know, words unspoken, what they are telling me. Several critically injured soldier's wives were there, 'eating their first meal in a very long time.' After receiving the 'bad news,' they are flown into San Antonio to meet their husbands in the hospital when they arrive from Landsthul, after being medivaced from Iraq or Afghanistan. They are in critical condition most of the time.  On this Valentine's Day, I think of the kisses and grueling goodbyes and farewells, as they deployed to protect us. And I think how often when they return they are in pieces, and the family is falling to pieces and praying for strength.

I asked one wife, whose husband is critical in the hospital, what would taste good to her.  She was too tired to answer.  I fixed her a plate and took it to her with a cup of hot coffee and some juice.  She couldn't speak, as the tears begin to come.  I handed her my card and told her, "If you need me call."  That was all I could offer.  She later came into the kitchen and asked if I would just hug her for a minute. 

I remember too a soldier telling me how he has had so many angels protecting him. He wasn't quite sure why or how he was still alive except for them.  He went on to tell me that when he dies, his angels will be retired because they had to work so hard to keep him safe.  "You see Penny (my therapy dog) has been but one."

I am centered by these soldiers and others whose pain is acute, whose story is not yet complete, whose lives are in chaos.  One soldier yesterday asked, as he does each week, for 'everything' on his omelet with extra ham.  He stood very close to me, as I prepared it and at just the right moment he handed me a plastic cup with pickled jalapenos in it to add to the omelet just before I turn it onto his plate. He always comes back into the kitchen to hug me and tell me thank you. 

Another soldier yesterday stood patiently in the long line to wait for his omelet.  He was soft spoken and  likely suffering from PTSD, as they most all are.  I watched as he went to the counter and ate.  I poured him a large glass of orange juice and asked if there were anything else he wanted.  He didn't look up, but quietly said "this is the first breakfast I can remember eating in a very, very long time."  About 30 minutes later, he returned, stood in line once again and asked for another omelet.  At that moment I realized that if I were on this earth for no other reason, it was to have nourished this soldier with two homecooked omelets made with great love.

So the moral to this story is what?  We all have moments when we unravel, fall apart. These soldiers are a ritual to me - a ritual that restores me back to myself.  Not just for me, but so that I may continue to be there for others - which is the task of my life. There is that 'center' in all of us -  that place where the 'divine' lives and is working through us.

So my disappointments or sad moments mean I need to listen, pay closer attention, look into those eyes so full of pain, despair, and fear...for the answer to all is hidden somewhere in there.  And perhaps, just perhaps there are blessings for all of us who persist.  For no matter who we are, where we are, what our success is, what others perceive us to be or not be, we are here for a purpose.


"What was my occupation?  I finally gave up and said "Person."

M.C. Richards



It seemed like a typical relaxed Saturday morning like any home. The aroma of sausage and eggs wafted and tantalized from the busy kitchen, waking up sleepy appetites. Coffee and orange juice was placed on the table, while the television told us of another attack in Iraq and more U.S. casualties.

In the family room, children played on the floor, a young father cradled his three week old baby in his arms, and mothers of young children chatted about things young mothers chat about. Another father crawled around the floor on his knees playing with his son who was just starting to crawl himself. The only thing different was that the father had no legs. Once in a while the baby would pull himself up by grabbing his daddy’s prosthetic legs.

Gracie and I, and another therapy dog, Hunter, arrived at the Fisher House with gift bags of homemade cookies to be placed in each of the sixty soldier’s rooms. Volunteers were busy chopping and slicing in the kitchen for a special brunch for these young families at their temporary home away from home.

Dogs and kids together are endearing and captivating. This was no exception. Together Gracie and Hunter just seemed to add that one missing piece to complete the scene.

One soldier’s daughter, Ashley, was dressed in a pink Barbie dress ‘with sparkles.’ She proudly told Gracie all about it with great enthusiasm. Connor was just starting to walk on wobbly legs that would get going too fast. He would plop down, pick himself up and crawl into my lap, or whatever lap was convenient. Then he would snuggle up to Gracie or Hunter and seriously study these strange looking fuzzy toys. You see Conner has been at the Fisher House for most of his life. He hadn’t seen too many dogs. His dad was injured in Iraq and lost both legs. With his new prosthetic legs, it was as if he and Conner were learning how to walk together.

The sounds and smells of sausage and bacon sizzling and the soldier’s children laughing and playing with the dogs reminded me that all of our most powerful memories are sensual – touch and smell.

It was this Saturday morning at the Fisher House that I realized that love has its own smell and remembering is an act of grace. I will remember this morning for a very long time.

“What is your dog’s name?” “Gracie.” “Oh Gracie you are so beautiful. Daddy can I have a dog like Gracie some day?”

“Someday, sweetheart, when we can go home. Someday.”


“If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else.”

~Booker T. Washington~

"It takes alot of courage to show your dreams to someone else."

~Erma Bombeck~

Saturday, February 13, 2010


Nate opened his heart so wide you just slipped inside without knowing your feet had left the earth. His blonde hair, blue eyes and tan healthy complexion hid the fact that only four and one half weeks ago his legs had been blown off in Iraq.

Nate in his wheelchair only a foot or so away, looked me straight in the eyes for at least twenty minutes and told me in great detail how he had lost his legs, how he knew he had to be alert because his buddies, in panic mode, didn’t know what to do, how he told them to get the tourniquets and tie them onto his upper legs and how he ‘only cried out four times in pain’ before surgery. But the most extraordinary thing he said was that waking after surgery he looked down and saw only an empty space where both legs had once been. “I said, ‘Okay both legs are gone. Let’s get on with it. Let’s start healing.’” I was reminded of a quote from the Shawshank Redemption, “Get busy living – or get busy dying.”

Nate was part of Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD), also known as the Army Bomb Squad” in Iraq. He was responsible for ‘identifying, rendering safe, and disposing of unexploded conventional munitions, chemical munitions and improvised explosive devices.’ When one was found, he would call an explosive ordinance disposal team to destroy the bomb. As Nate said, “This time the bomb found me.”

These Improvised Explosive Devices,(IED)’s are the number one killer of our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are easily made by enemy combatants using materials found in local stores or from unused explosives left over from the former regime. They are disguised and are found roadside covered with dirt, rocks or trash or in a soda can, oil or paint can. They can be detonated by remote control or directly or by blasting caps, which can be set off by a battery. As I thought of this, I wondered what kind of a young man would volunteer for this job that Nate had. It was his job to accomplish this as remotely as possible.

I touched his shoulder and told him he must have angels sitting there. He pointed to a white decal on the sleeve of his black t-shirt of a muscular male stooping angel. He told me that the back of the truck that he was in when he was ' hit'had a huge angel painted on it. Chills ran up and down my arms.

Nate watched Gracie with little interest. I asked if he liked dogs. He said, “Not really, I’m not much of a pet person.” He proceeded to tell me that every time he had been deployed to Iraq, his wife acquired a new pet. “I guess I better learn to love them, our house is full of ‘em now.” He winked and petted Gracie. Home for Nate and his wife and children is going to be the Fisher House for at least eighteen more months. The surgeons had told him that he healed faster from a double amputation than any other soldier they had seen. I have a feeling that Nate will be home getting acquainted with his entourage of pets much sooner than that. He is only weeks away from being fitted with his prosthetics. We shall see. Maybe someday he will even learn to love a dog.

He asked me about Gracie’s eyes. I told him she had no vision in one eye and could see some shadows in the distance in the other. He got very pensive. In a moment, looking at the American flag blowing at the other end of the courtyard, he said, “Then she can see our flag blowing, can’t she?” I said, “Of course she can, she sees it with her heart.” Nate taught me a great lesson about ‘amber waves oF grain and purple mountain’s majesty’.

But two weeks later, I didn’t recognize him. He was sitting on the patio of the Fisher House, in the shadow of the Center for the Intrepid, with a blank expression on his face that I instantly recognized as depression. He was wearing a tan visor and sunglasses and handsome as ever. The only thing missing was his exuberant personality. I tried to remind myself that this is just another stage in recovery. But having witnessed this before, it was excruciating. His wife was there and two daughters. The girls were instantly enthralled with Gracie, Cindy and Lola. For that I was grateful. They posed for pictures with the dogs and for them, at least for that moment, life was good.

When patients come and go from ‘The Intrepid’ they pass a large, black stone sculpture in the courtyard. The “Broken Circle” is unevenly connected at the bottom, symbolizing those who will go through life imperfect, but complete. I was reminded what an amputee had told me, “Just because you have lost a leg, doesn’t mean you have lost your life.” The journey is long and hard, but the glimpse I had of the ‘real’ Nate on our first meeting, told me he is made of the right stuff. Just like the stone sculpture, he may never be the same, but he will be whole again just in a different way.

The battle didn’t end when Nate came home; it was just beginning. “Combat medicine has improved to the point that more than 90 percent of the wounded now survive. They survive, though, to fight the toughest battle of their lives.” So said Anderson Cooper on AC360. Truer words were never spoken. Sometimes the sacrifices and suffering of the injured is almost too much to comprehend. Helen Keller came to mind, “All the world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming it.”

Nate’s girls were on their knees next to their dad’s wheelchair. Both had their arms around Lola with wide smiles. As they played with Gracie and her therapy dog companions, I focused my camera on them framed in the center of that large stone sculpture that sits in a bed of yellow and white flowers where a small American flag waves. For the rest of their lives they will never be the same. This is their summer vacation, watching dad struggle through hell. Kids make sacrifices too. As I snapped the photo I hoped that perhaps one day Nate’s girls might be the answer that reconnects Nate to life.


“Everyday we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black curious eyes of a child, our own two eyes. All is a miracle.”

Thich Nhat Hanh