Friday, April 30, 2010

SIX IMPOSSIBLE THINGS

Removing the clutter from our lives, can allow room for amazing things to happen.

"There's no use trying," she said:
"one can't believe impossible things."
"I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen.  "When I was
your age, I always did it for half an hour.  Why, sometimes I've believed as
many as six impossible things before breakfast."
Alice in Wonderland ~ Lewis Carroll ~



I'm starting to feel it.  A little more every day.  A little more clutter disappearing from the stage of my life.  Strange how it happens.  Sometimes small things, almost insignificant things, and then sometimes huge things that have had me in their clutches for years. 

But it is timing.  These things don't disappear on their own.  You have to let go.  And in so doing, clutter clears, and your mind clears, and your heart opens, and windows let in clean fresh air, and curtains blow in the breeze, and you feel like you are alive again.  Funny how we hang on to things and possessions and people and ideas and thoughts and dreams much longer than we should. Why do we do that?

Does letting go hurt so much, or is it the premise that it might hurt? 

Watching things that used to be of primary importance to me being swept into a dustpan of memories isn't as bad as I thought.  The labels we put on possessions from past days are distinguished from the new days ahead in a myriad of ways. There isn't fanfare or balloons, just a quiet new beginning.  Doors begin opening that never had before, as you discard those people and possessions that are no longer a part of who you are.  Peeling back the layers of accumulated unhappiness, pain, and exasperation that holds us in neutral is cleansing and appealing and oddly exhilarating.

 Lost hopes and fears and drudgery are let go.  It is in this place that we call upon the goodness that is all around us, if we only open our eyes to see it.  There is no ceremony.  You simply go around the curve with a feeling of empowerment that you never had before. And once around that corner you find peace and you find space to allow the new to enter and embrace those people and possessions you have chosen to take with you. 

It is in this space that I find "there are people whom one appreciates immediately and forever.  Even to know they are alive in the world is quite enough." ~Nancy Spain~

I think of two very special people who hold my heart today. And though they are far, far away, knowing they are 'alive in this world is quite enough.'

Antoine de Saint-Exupery said in Flight to Arras, "To live is to be slowly born."  I understand that now.  I am living. I have let go.  I am being slowly born. And In The Little Prince he says, "One sees clearly only with the heart.  Anything essential is invisible to the eyes."  What is essential to you? What clutter do you need to discard to discover the gifts that will come when you have the willingness to see?

Maybe believing six impossible things before breakfast is what it is all about. Maybe we need to believe the impossible, aim for the impossible, and accept that anything is possible. Maybe we are just too darn stuffy and stuck. 

I ask you today to imagine and believe six impossible things.  What are they?  What do they tell you about who you really are and what you want? 

As for me, I have more than six impossible things I believe.  And I would not have them, if I had not cleaned out the clutter in my life - the people, the situations, the circumstances, the messes, the pain, and the inability to recognize pleasure when it is sitting in front of me. 

Perhaps, just perhaps this discovery will bring a song of grace to you and inspire you to love, calm your mind, and just maybe cause you to stir things up a little.  It might take time and a bit of attention.  But try.  What have you got to lose but the clutter?


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

"If you're not living on the edge, you're taking up too much space."
~Stephen Hunt~




Thursday, April 29, 2010

COMBAT STRESS RELIEF DOG IN NEED

"Life is complicated - Teach me to wait patiently,
while my wings grow strong - I am in training for flight."
A Friend 
 
 
This handsome young man sat in the shadow of the Center for the Intrepid at Brooke Army Medical Center on a gorgeous spring afternoon. The baby squirrels were playing on the patio, leaping from palm tree to palm tree with not a care in the world, as soldiers, seriously injured in a war worlds away, came and went from the Fisher Houses at Brooke Army Medical Center. Some with no legs, some missing an arm, most with a brain injury and or post traumatic stress disorder, many stooped and bent using walkers.  One soldier sat alone reading a book, smoking a cigarette, enjoying the peace of a beautiful afternoon in a world far away, yet all too close, to the one he had left.  Another struggled to open a door from his wheelchair and another grimaced, as he used a walker to manuver down the pathway returning from a day at the hospital.

A's hand was on Kelsie's head.  He wore a black protective helmet, for half of his skull was missing from a blast from an IED.  He had lost both legs.  His two buddies in the humvee died instantly.  He wheeled over to the patio table and joined my friend Karen and her lab, Chase, and my Kelsie and me.  Kelsie went up to him and didn't find it odd in the slightest that her new friend had no legs. She nestled her head softly and gently onto his stump as if she knew and looked up at him with adoring soft brown eyes and golden eyelashes.  A. melted, and as he melted he began to talk - apparently a much needed talk.

As the 'gunner in the vehicle,' the last thing he remembered was being in Afghanistan and trying to get his friends out of the  Humvee that had been blown up by an IED.  The next thing he remembered was waking up in Texas at BAMC and realizing his legs were gone.  First response - anger. Then he realized the thing that had bothered him the most about going to Afghanistan was the potential for losing a limb.  "I didn't know how I could survive that."

He did survive. I can guarantee you he survived for a purpose.  This young man will be, and as far as I am concerned, already is, an inspiration to others.  With Kelsie and Chase sleeping at his feet, oblivious to the plight of this 34 year old man, A. shared his story about his wife, his kids and his dogs at home.  It was cathartic for him.  It was a gift for us. 
His mind would wander off track occasionally, but he never stopped smiling.  Odd isn't it?  He praised his wife for being strong and there for him. He teased about how hungry he always is. 

We asked him what his feelings were about therapy dogs helping soldiers. He became somber as he said, "Okay here is what I think.  I think every soldier should have a therapy dog.  There would be less need for medicine, less need for alcohol, and more compassion. It would make a difference in all of their lives. Just sitting here with Chase and Kelsie has made a difference in mine. They don't care whether I have legs or not, they are simply peace. Many of us have lost all compassion."

"They are simply peace." Pretty much sums it up doesn't it?  I received an email from CPT D. in Iraq last night.  He is an OT deployed with the 85th Combat Stress Control Detachment in Iraq.  He visits all of the soldiers in the different units on their camp with a combat stress relief dog as part of their stress management treatment program in the Behavioral Health clinic.
He is asking for "dog shampoo, fur brushes, dog tooth brushes and toothpaste, healthy treats, new water and food bowls, and Hill's Science Diet dog foodAnd of course any sun protection items to keep the dogs cool and safe in the upcoming grueling summer heat." 

I am deviating from my normal format to ask for your help.  Please send any items to me and Penny's From Heaven Foundation will ship immediately!!  ASAP. 
His dog is 'dangerously low' on Hill's Science Diet Dog Food. 

We of course accept monetary contributions and we will purchase the items and send asap!  Your donation will go directly to this COMBAT STRESS RELIEF DOG IN IRAQ! 

Please send to:

PENNY'S FROM HEAVEN FOUNDATION - OPERATION COMBAT STRESS RELIEF DOG ASSISTANCE
13423 BLANCO ROAD -  SUITE 218
SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS 78216

God Bless You and God Bless Our Troops!


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

BECOMING A PART OF SOMETHING LARGER THAN OURSELVES

It takes time.  It takes dedication.  It takes work. And it takes commitment. And it also takes putting yourself last sometimes. Take it from me, it also takes smiling and forging ahead, when you don't think you can take another step and when you least feel like it.  It takes sacrifice.

"Smile though your heart is aching - smile even though its breaking." 

And you know, sometimes, just sometimes all it takes is stepping back and realizing that we are all already a part of something larger than ourselves. Our 'issues' simply are not that important in the scheme of things.  And our 'stuff,' our 'things' are just not that important.  Moments are important.  The way we make people feel is important.  The way we love is important.  The way we reach out and hold the hand of someone hurting is important. The way we let our love and compassion for our fellow man rise to the surface in moments of despair is important.  Understanding we are all different and accepting that is important.

"Becoming a part of something larger than ourselves." I have preached repeatedly to my therapy dog teams, "It isn't about you, it isn't about your dog, it is about the patient struggling to heal." 

So how do we do this?  How do we set aside our own demons and pain and anger to become a part of something larger than ourselves?

I opened the back door this morning at 4:30 am to let the dogs outside and then to write.  I was instantly overcome with the beauty of the cool, crisp late Spring morning, the piercing fragrance of the star-shaped jasmine blossoms on my pergola, and a light like none other shining through the oak trees - exquisite in its perfection.  The full moon.  The full moon. 

A dove moved in the pomegranate tree over my patio and sent me a soft cooing message, as if to say, "It's not time - remember what truly matters." 

 Magnificience!  Splendor!

I stood there in my 'jammies' inhaling.  Inhaling the moment, inhaling the beauty, and inhaling the silence found in this tiny speck in time.  In that place, I was a part of something larger than myself.  All was perfection.  All was peace.

"As eternity is reckoned there's a lifetime in a second."
Piet Hein



Tuesday, April 27, 2010

CATALYST FOR CHANGE

I read an interesting line in a book quite late last night, "I was drawn to places of suffering that surpassed my own."  It hit me - perhaps I do that as well. And perhaps I always have.  I haven't done this as a conscious rational decision, nor from a place of any great self awareness.

I remember none of my childhood. Strange.  I remember no happiness, no smiles, no joy, and certainly no sitting at a table eating a meal with my parents and no love.  But from the time I could remember, I was hungry.  Hungry to be loved, to be accepted as I was, and primarily to be of use to others suffering that had been left in those cold and lonely places we often find ourselves. Places that were, and sometimes still are, all too familiar to me. I didn't want others to feel like I did. I wanted to ease their suffering.

I have felt small, insufficient and lost most of my life.  The feeling of not really knowing why I was here and taking what each day had to offer and 'going with it.' I have been a woman injured deeply by the men in my life, memories of abandonment and pain are my closest friends, and  yet a twenty plus career in television, radio and print media and as an author, thrust me into the limelight and a public dimension I was never sure I liked, nor felt comfortable. 

You see, I do best in the trenches, working behind the scenes, striving to make the lives of struggling fellow human beings not quite so painful and full of grief.  Sometimes I feel as if I am as squashed as are they.  Sometimes the face I paint on is as full of pain as is theirs.  But despite my life and my pain which is insignificant really, I am making a difference.

Sunday at the deployment of the 162nd Medical Unit of the Texas National Guard in the shadow of the Alamo, I cannot tell you, for I lost count, how many of the troops came up to me and thanked me from a place deep inside of themselves, for being able to provide them with a 'therapy dog' in Iraq while they are deployed.

I found this intense gratitude almost outrageously out of place.  I should be the one thanking them.  Thanking them for putting themselves in 'harm's way.'  Thanking them for leaving their families and jobs and lives to go to fight for my freedom and ability to write these words and to live in this country that is today full of the rebirth of Spring and thunderous displays of patriotic red, white, and blue wildflowers - and hope and faith and love.

Providing these soldiers with a therapy dog to snuggle, and talk to, and cry with, play with, and find extraordinary comfort and a touch of home with is my gift to them. My gift to these young men and women who have volunteered to leave all they have known to stand up for a country that is enormously grateful for their sacrifices. It is also a gift from http://www.vetdogs.org/  and Jim Mathys at America's VetDogs.  For without their help, and without the belief and support of Brigadier General Stevens, in the mission of Penny's From Heaven Foundation, Inc., none of this would have been possible. My undying gratitude to them. We shall perhaps never see what this four footed therapist in Iraq will mean to our soldiers, to their well being, to their hearts, and to their daily struggles to survive, save lives, and to protect us. But we will know.  Deep inside we will know.  For me personally this is an achievement of a lifetime!  Thank you America's VetDogs and General Stevens from our troops and from me.

It remains unnerving and disturbing for the troops to be thanking me.  I didn't and don't understand.  I have been but the catalyst. 

I guess what I am saying is that we all suffer, and yet we can all have the capabilities to be a catalyst for change - a catalyst for making a difference in this world and in the lives of its inhabitants, if only we take a step and rise to the occasion. It doesn't matter where we do it or under what circumstances.  All that matters is that we do it!

Brotherhood and comraderie in life and in war are paramount.  So I will graciously accept their gratitude, and I hope and pray that all eighty two of them know that I am, and will always be, their 'battle buddy' back here in the states, defending what they are doing.  Spirit never dies.  These young men and women are going to save lives, see and experience unspeakable things, and return to us different people.  But for a few moments they will have an America's VetDog therapy dog to remind them of why they are there and to bring them the love and support of those of us waiting at home for their safe return. 

Godspeed!  You are in my prayers.

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

To help us help and be the catalyst for change, I invite and encourage you to contribute to:

100% of your tax deductible charitable contributions will go to help our soldiers.

Monday, April 26, 2010

IN HARM'S WAY

A best friend leaves today for Fort Lewis in Washington.  From there she goes to Kuwait and from there to Iraq for a year.  I miss her. I love her. She is the sister I never had, and she is my inspiration and my hero.   We held each other close, no words necessary.  Tears flowed and pride surfaced.  Pride for each other, pride for accomplishments, pride for the United States of America.  There were words said and words unsaid, because they were unnecessary.  She knows my heart and I hers.

 I attended (as a family member) the 162nd Area Support Medical Company Deployment Ceremony in Support of Operation Iraqi Freedom yesterday morning.  Words from the Brigadier General,  Chaplain and a retired 1SG USMC still ring in my ears.  "In harm's way! In harm's way!" Children clinging to their mothers or fathers deploying.  Grandmothers taking up the call to care for their grandchildren or great grandchildren for a year. Wives pregnant whose husbands will not be there for them when this new life enters the world they are protecting.

The air was permeated with a  sadness, a resignation to sacrifice, a chill, words unspoken, yet faces full of pride and pain. In the shadow of the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas where men fought and died, I choked back tears as the National Anthem was played and silent words were whispered and babies cried.    As the troops turned  at attention to face us, I said a prayer that they return to us safely, return to this country they have chosen to defend and protect.  Return.

We also serve who stay behind.  We also serve. 

First to fight for the right,
And to build the Nation's might,
And The Army Goes Rolling Along
Proud of all we have done,
Fighting till the battle's won,
And The Army Goes Rolling Along.

Then it's Hi! Hi! Hey!
The Army's on its way.
Count off the cadence loud and strong (Two! Three!)
For where e'er we go,
You will always know
That The Army Goes Rolling Along.

As I held my friend close for the last time for a year, it was a moment of peace that didn't need a smile attached. 

There was only the knowledge that she will return, and we will be together again, and that her service, love and friendship is appreciated enormously.

Godspeed!

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


"There comes a point in your life when you realize, who matters, who never did, who won't anymore, and who always will.  So don't worry about people from
your past, there's a reason why they didn't make it to your future."
Amen

To support our soldiers who are willingly to put themselves in harm's way

Please send contributions to:
Penny's From Heaven Foundation, Inc.
13423 Blanco Road, Ste. 218
San Antonio, TX 78216
or
visit our website



Saturday, April 24, 2010

LIBERATION

"It's the heart afraid of breaking that never learns to dance."
***********


Love is above all, the gift of oneself!  To give your love away, to give yourself away, is always a risk.  But without it there is nothing. This is a hard lesson to learn because sometimes in the process your heart gets broken.  And putting the pieces back together again is anything but fun.

Ultimately, life and love cannot ever be fully understood. 

 As humans we want an answer or explanation for everything.  We want a conclusion.  We want to put it in a box, on the shelf, where it will sit for a while until we throw it away.

Over the past few weeks I have come to the conclusion that not attempting to understand each blemished relationship or difficult occurence leaves me a great deal freer.  Trying to figure it out is useless, exhausting, and it wastes precious time. Searching for definitions does not change anything, and in most cases there is no explanation or tidy package, and we most likely will become lost in the attempt.

So perhaps the answer is simple, if we understand  - fine.  If we don't understand - fine.

Liberation! 

Occurences are only temporary.  It is my suggestion to not get caught up in the blur of it all.  Life goes on.  The complexity of it goes on.  The pain of it goes on.  The joy of it goes on.

Think for a moment how liberating it would be, if you simply allowed others to be who they are.  We can't change them, nor control them.  But we can love them.  We can love them just the way they are.

Only we can decide how to react to a certain occurence.  And I can tell you this,  allowing negative emotions to dominate needs to stop.  Negative emotions are products of external situations, and will pass and should never, for a single second, be allowed to dominate your life.

Every moment is an opportunity to make a new happy ending.  We were not born to suffer from defeats, rather we were born to victory. 

Tom Burns said it best, "You can't go back and make a brand new start, but you can start over and make a brand new ending."

Want to join me?

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





Friday, April 23, 2010

LIFESAVERS

A friend called today and said she had 'some' stuffed toys for me to ship to Iraq and Afghanistan. As she was hanging up, she indicated her husband would be very glad.  Little did I know how glad he was going to be! She arrived in a huge Suburban literally filled to capacity with  bags and bags and boxes of stuffed plush toys for humanitarian aid. Her husband is now thrilled and my garage is bursting!

These toys of comfort, much like our therapy dogs, are making extraordinary differences, as you will see by the story below. Toys will go to hospitalized Iraqi children, sadly victims of war. They will also be distributed by soldiers to the children on the streets or in schools. And rest assured, we have made certain that first and foremost our soldiers top priority is safety. All battery packs and like devices have been removed, as they can be used for explosives. 

I ask you to absorb the letter below from a Marine.  I ask you to realize that our collecting these toys is by no means a frivolous thing. 

You will soon realize why and hopefully find it in your heart to donate to OPERATION PUPPY LOVE

Lives can be saved!

************************** 


"Just wanted to write to you and tell you another story about an experience we had over here. As you know, I asked for toys for the Iraqi children over here and several people (Americans that support us) sent them over by the box. On each patrol we take through the city, we take as many toys as will fit in our pockets and hand them out as we can. The kids take the toys and run to show them off as if they were worth a million bucks. We are as friendly as we can be to everyone we see, but especially so with the kids. Most of them don't have any idea what is going on and are completely innocent in all of this.


On one such patrol, our lead security vehicle stopped in the middle of the street. This is not normal and is very unsafe, so the following vehicles began to inquire over the radio. The lead vehicle reported a little girl sitting in the road and said she just would not budge. The command vehicle told the lead to simply go around her and to be kind as they did. The street was wide enough to allow this maneuver and so they waved to her as they drove around.

As the vehicles went around her, I soon saw her sitting there and in her arms she was clutching a little bear that we had handed her a few patrols back. Feeling an immediate connection to the girl, I radioed that we were going to stop. The rest of the convoy paused and I got out the make sure she was OK. The little girl looked scared and concerned, but there was a warmth in her eyes toward me. As I knelt down to talk to her, she moved over and pointed to a mine (IED) in the road.

Immediately, a cordon was set as the Marine convoy assumed a defensive posture around the site. The mine was destroyed in place.




It was the heart of an American that sent that toy. It was the heart of an American that gave that toy to that little girl. It was the heart of an American that protected that convoy from that mine. Sure, she was a little Iraqi girl and she had no knowledge of purple mountain's majesty or fruited plains. It was a heart of acceptance, of tolerance, of peace and grace, even through the inconveniences of conflict that saved that convoy from hitting that mine. Those attributes are what keep Americans hearts beating. She may have no affiliation at all with the United States, but she knows what it is to be brave and if we can continue to support her and her new government, she will know what it is to be free. Isn't that what Americans are, the free and the brave?




If you sent over a toy to a Marine (US Service member) you took part in this. You are a reason that Iraq has to believe in a better future. Thank you so much for supporting us and for supporting our cause over here."


Semper Fi, Mark GySgt / USMC

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

I ask you to consider sending us a monetary donation so that we may purchase more toys to be shipped to our troops to distribute.  Your kindness just might save a life!

Please send donations to:
OPERATION PUPPY LOVE
C/O PENNY'S FROM HEAVEN FOUNDATION, INC.
13423 BLANCO ROAD - STE # 218
SAN ANTONIO, TX 78248 

DONATIONS MAY ALSO BE MADE ON LINE
thru paypal, check or credit card.

Thank you from our troops!




IF ONLY FOR A MOMENT

"You need chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star."
~Friedrich Nietzsche~

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


I may not be in Iraq or Afghanistan, but I serve here. To face it trembling is not productive. This was one such time.

I first met Molly, a soldier's wife, on a Spring day sitting on a patio at BAMC.  She looked broken and exhausted, as I approached her with my 'mostly' blind therapy dog, Gracie.  I took a deep breath and knew that this little clown of a dog has an intuitive way of making people smile and setting aside their pain, if only for a few moments. I decided to let Gracie take control.

Molly whispered to her, as she held her and listened to her famous 'cooing' sounds. Gracie snuggled into Molly's chest.  This warmth and comfort seemed to awaken long denied tears and an almost urgent need to release the words of pain and fear - finally.  She had held it in as long as she could.  Gracie had become the catalyst.


Molly left the hospital at BAMC only two times while her husband was in ICU for thirty eight days. He had been in Afghanistan. "A triple stacked land mine IED packed with purple phosphorus 'got' two soldiers and the interpreter.  He was thrown from the vehicle.  On fire, but ran back into the vehicle to get his guys. Both died."  Molly needed to talk, she needed to share. I reached for her hand, and she held on tight. This is a war also fought on the homefront.  This is life. These are our soldiers. This is what I do. This is what they sacrifice.

She continued, "My husband had no eye brows and severe facial burns." She recalled bracing herself for the first time she was to see him days after he arrived from Landsthul, Germany.  She took a deep breath before entering his hospital room, smiled and said, “You’re a sight for sore eyes.”


"I lied through my teeth when I told him his buddies were okay and then told him 'he was the best thing that ever happened to me.' I couldn’t look at his face, because I wouldn’t have recognized him. All I could see were his beautiful blue eyes."


"I learned quickly that severely wounded soldiers are worried their wives will leave them. I knew I couldn’t be that kind of wife. Parents have it ten times worse. If it had been one of my kids, I would be dying."

I asked her how they survive it day after day after day. "Wives take on other wives and their kids, as their own family."  It helps the wives to talk. It is the quiet ones that are dangerous. If they didn’t marry for the right reasons, they won’t make it."

As for her husband, "what he looks like on the outside is unimportant. It is what is on the inside that is."

I watched Molly as she never took her hands off of Gracie.  She played with her muzzle, fondled her ears, and quietly and gently ran her index finger up and down her spine.  Gracie would then turn over and expose her 'pretty pink belly' for a little tender scratching.  On this day, on this patio, a young woman found an opening and a place where she felt safe to finally 'let it out.'
 Little Gracie had initiated this 'relaxation response' taking Molly's focus away from her pain and temporarily lightening her mood. This could be considered a coincidence or synchronicity.  But there is a scientific reason.  It is proven!
 
When we  pet a dog, within minutes we get a massive release of the beneficial hormone, dopamine, and a decrease in the stress hormone, cortisol. Physical anxiety goes down when a therapy dog is present, which almost always results in  lessening depression. Initiating this relaxation response takes people’s focus off of their pain and brightens their moods.
 
Well, the following day Molly and her husband were to celebrate their 16th anniversary at BAMC.
 
As I struggled to leave her, I remembered that there is an inward greatness in the human soul. And I knew beyond a doubt we have to love those we love for every moment we are given.  For tomorrow is not guaranteed. 
 
We must leave room in our lives for the angels to dance - if only for a moment. 

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

Today in Seatlle, April 23, 2010, religious scholar and author, Karen Armstrong, will be the keynote speaker at an event organized to honor Seattle, as the first city in the world to affirm the Charter for Compassion.  It is beginning.  I encourage you today to explore your own compassion for others - for yourself. 

Perhaps it could begin with a charitable contribution to Penny's From Heaven Foundation...to allow us to continue helping our soldiers.  Please send your donation to:

Penny's from Heaven Foundation, Inc.
13423 Blanco Road
Ste. 218
San Antonio, Texas 78216

It is tax deductible and 100% of your donation will go to help our patients and soldiers!
 
 
*****************************
"I've been thinking about happiness.  How wrong it is to ever expect it to last or there to be a time of happiness.  It is not that, it's a moment of happiness."
~May Sarton~



Thursday, April 22, 2010

EARTH DAY - SURVIVAL

Taking care of our earth requires something of us all.  Taking care of the inhabitants of  this planet does as well. These are the faces of those who do just that.

I asked a soldier a couple of weeks ago why everytime I thank a OIF/OEF veteran for his or her sacrifice and service they always say "Oh no ma'am thank you!" They continue by telling me that what I do is far more important than what they do. I didn't get it.  It makes me feel odd, embarrassed, humbled, and, if possible, more grateful for their service and sacrifice than before.

This soldier told me that without 'us' back here in the states, supporting them in a myriad of ways, they could not do their job.  That helped.  It finally was making sense.  If they know those of us waiting at home 'have their backs' 100% they can do anything.  If we are here letting them know we are appreciative, supportive, grateful, and thankful that they are where they are, doing what they are doing, then in some sense their job is made a little easier.

What a lesson to be learned.  So today I honor not only this earth we inhabit, but also the inhabitants of this earth who are in 'harm's way' protecting this great nation, and those who volunteer their time to support those who need us the most.

Two days ago Penny's From Heaven Foundation, Inc. graduated six new certified therapy dog teams - Buddy, Maggie, Daphne, Peaches, Xena and Mocha. They and their owners worked hard, very hard, to reach this goal.  They spent hours training, studying, working, and refining their skills to go out into the world and make a difference one patient, child, client, or soldier at a time.  This takes commitment and responsibility to honor this promise and pledge to assist in improving the quality of someone's life.  It is an assurance that "I will be there for you."  It is based on caring for our fellow man.  It is based on compassion and passion.  And it is fundamentally based on love.

A new 'crop' of future therapy dogs is already hard at work preparing for a future of service to others.  What more can anyone ask of another than to put their ego aside and work for the betterment of mankind. 

Donating our time, volunteering our time and giving of our time is a gift.  W.H. Auden hit the nail on the head when he said, "We are all on earth to help others, what the others are here for I do not know." 

Our selfless commitment to our fellow humans is paramount to survival.

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

"You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today."
~Abraham Lincoln~

  











Wednesday, April 21, 2010

SUPERVISING YOUR CEILING

Once you say you're going to settle for second, that's what happens to you in life."

~ President John F Kennedy~
 
You have a great deal of time to think while supervising your ceiling repairs.  It seems the upstairs commode had a leak that shattered the downstairs ceiling.  Okay, suffice it to say it was a mess, an inconvenience, and expensive. I watched the hole cut out of the ceiling, nearly gagged at the huge mess pulled out of the hole, to  discover quite soon that my toilet upstairs was sitting in the center of my bedroom at the foot of the bed. And to make it more fun I was having a dinner party for eight in just six hours. 
 
But it wasn't a catastrophe! I responded to the entire situation quite differently than I once would have.  I was calm.  It quite simply wasn't a big deal.  I joked with the repair crew and went about my day.  I stepped over plastic-covered furniture, floors and walls.  I watched three dogs track through the mess on the floor and spread it to the rest of the house (which had just been cleaned the day before). 
 
I temporarily left the chaos of the morning to go to a business lunch and found shelter on a beautiful sunny terrace at an Italian restaurant.  The perfect place to enjoy portabella stuffed ravioli with friends.  It was most civilized until we discovered someone had thrown a stray dog over the fence and she was starving and terrified.  So much for lunch.  Then a trip to the closest veterinary hospital to check for a microchip.  Not surprising, there was none.
 
You need not hear the rest of the story as it isn't germane to this blog.  But so you can sleep tonight, yes the dog is fine and her new name is Dixie and secondly, no, she is not living with me.
 
What is important is that while supervising the ceiling I felt as though I was simply an observer.  Have you ever felt that way?  Totally helpless - watching but not participating?  Wanting to help but having no idea how.  Surveying, scrutinizing, examining, and studying the ceiling.  You can let it 'be,' or you can 'worry it' to death.  You can supervise, question, make suggestions, but to what end?  Sometimes we have to let go and let someone who knows what they are doing take over.  Sometimes we have to let go period.  To complete a task or an unresolved problem sometimes we have to let go. We need to do those things we know how to do and leave the ceilings to someone else.
 
It is in the tearing apart that we discover the new.  It is in the cleaning up the messes we have made in our lives that we discover what we are made of.  It is in the discovery that we risk and grow and move on to something more fulfilling and beautiful than we ever imagined.  It is then that we leave a place where we are in neutral and find life waiting.  If we settle for second best that is exactly what we get and deserve.  If we go for the gold, we might find it has been right under our nose all the time. 
 
So if your ceiling falls or your world is falling apart, supervise by stepping back, observing, let go of what you can let go of and step out in faith that you are being guided in a new direction, a better direction, and to a place where, not only the ceiling, but the foundation is stronger and better than ever before. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Monday, April 19, 2010

AFTER THE OUCH

Like a turtle we often have to go into our shell to sleep, to rest, to hide perhaps, or to nurse our wounds.  And perhaps it is in that shell that we discover the realization that life is about not knowing, about having to change, about seizing the moment and the event that caused our pain and making the best of it.

There will always be new mistakes to make.  Trusting what a friend tells you is everything.  But it is in this trust that hearts can be broken.  Funny thing about communication or lack of it, it leaves us in the dark.  People get hurt in the dark.  And then there are times,  in a kitchen, cooking breakfast for wounded soldiers and their families that we come face to face with real love.

Finding this love, if only for a few brief seconds, allows us to endure, to cope, to take another step.  The kind of love I found was the real deal.  The kind that doesn't hurt and isn't questioned. The kind of love that makes us more human.  There was no pain, no lack or questioning of trust.  Just love - pure, clean, fresh and unconditional.

It came as a gift out of nowhere.  A wounded soldier's child.  She raced into the kitchen and ran to me with a face full of exquisite joy and arms outreached.  She hugged my leg and reached up her little arms to be lifted.  I picked her up and felt the warmth and comfort I needed so badly.

I thought, 'So this is what love should feel like.  No question marks. No ulterior motives.'

Have you ever noticed that our actions and choices, or lack of action, impacts others in a ripple effect? 

This morning I wonder why we open our hearts and allow people in, only to be hurt.  The question then becomes what if we don't?  What if we crawled back into our shell, that is already full of scars, to never risk being hurt again.  So we take a chance, a risk, and sometimes we're hurt.  We are swept away by words and a need to believe and trust and by a hunger to fill an empty space inside of us.  We want it to be right and feel good.  And maybe for a while it does.  Then reality rears its ugly head and all meaning is lost.  So do we risk the potential or stay stuck?  Do we miss the dance?  Right now I have no answers.

What I do know is that the Whistling Tree duck couple have just returned to set up housekeeping in the hollow of an oak tree here in the middle of suburbia, as they have for the past eight years. Each year the second week of April, the ducks arrive to feast at bird feeders and prepare their nests. Last year thirteen baby ducklings waddled down the alley, following mom and dad, between the garden homes, heading for someplace we will never know. It is always cause for phone calls to the neighbors, alerting them to the arrival and it also becomes a cause for great concern for their safety. The neighborhood security police often act as escorts. It is quite a scene.

Tree Ducks I understand.  Eggs I understand.  Nourishing America's veterans I understand.  Integrity, candor, openness and sincerity I understand. Love not so much.



Sunday, April 18, 2010

PRESENTS OF ANGELS

I had no idea my circumstances were that obvious, but I must have been wearing them on my sleeve.

Yesterday five people told me and/or held me and told me they cared and that they were there for me, to help, to do whatever might be needed.  They didn't ask the source of my pain.  Independently, they just seemed to know. 

I will remember yesterday, and I will never forget their kindess and caring. The presents of angels in my life. For a while, they brought me back into the light after a deep hurt.  Tears welled in my eyes at the recognition of their love, as I choked back tears. Not wanting to be human, I swallowed them.

Pain can come riding in on a beautiful white stallion or on the paws of a tiny white kitten.  Pain is pain - no matter the source.

Within its portals, pain changes  your life. Your inner self  becomes a kaleidoscope of changing colors, patterns, and circumstances. It is then we must face the chaos of our own creation.  Ask my best friends.  My life, and I sense all of our lives, to some degree, are like pinball machines, bouncing back and forth between emotions, as we live in reaction to external circumstances.

We allow our personal well being to be contingent upon someone or something else. I know I do. We are happy when things go well and unhappy when they don't.  The problem is, we ultimately have little or no control, in spite of our self-defeating and prodigious efforts to the contrary. The quicksand then shifts and real happiness becomes impossible. 

So here is the question.

Is there the potential for absolute, complete happiness inside of us? 

Perhaps as in Buddhism, true happiness comes when we stand strong and battle the hardships and storms in our lives, the inequities, the messes, the stuff.  Real happiness is linked to pledging ourselves to a grand purpose. 

Okay, supposing this is true, then if we are bound to a great purpose, we should be unaffected by the constant changes that surround us.  I get it, making other people happy will make us happy. But then I have known this all along. Taking that one step further, those that have hurt me are ultimately unhappy.  Works for me!  Living without compassion for others is a shallow existence.  Our happiness is contingent upon doing whatever we can to make others happy. 

So I have been right all along, just looking at it the wrong way. To love and feel compassion for humanity, and in my case 'my soldiers,' is easy. To love an individual is exceedingly more difficult.  As Buddha teaches, to find wisdom we must work to bring out the best in others.  But in so doing, we often find these relationships are a source of our greatest pain and a fulfillment that doesn't last.  Others that come and go in our lives sometimes behave badly causing us pain.  But when you come to realize that this is their problem not ours, it is fundamentally liberating.  We, and we alone, are responsible for the choices we make in our lives, relationships included.  We are looking to others to complete us, when in reality we alone can do that. 

In giving another person control over our emotions, we give up our power. Having someone who hurts us in our lives is unacceptable.


 

*************
"Buddhism expounds a state of life in which we can enjoy our life under any circumstances."
The Buddha InYour Mirror

Saturday, April 17, 2010

FINDING THE DANCE FLOOR

"What does it mean when God takes the box we've created for control, flattens it, and makes a dance floor, for us to celebrate the risk and gift of life?  And what does it mean, when the passion of our dance spills over to those around us?"
~Terry Hershey~

The past few days I have been trying to get out of the flattened box, find my dance floor, and celebrate life again.  The good news is I feel somewhat vindicated for my plethora of feelings, because if my good, and  hopefully one of my best friends, author, writer, mentor, inspirational speaker Terry Hershey gets it...then I am not alone.

Most of the people I know are trying to cram more and more into each day.  Most of us are engaged on the phone, on the Blackberry, on the IPhone, and/or on the laptop while carrying on a personal conversation, or heaven forbid, lunch or dinner with a friend.  As this realization hit home, so did the fact that the truth is - we can't get it all done.  And perhaps God never meant completing a TO DO LIST to be the purpose of our lives.

I have a white enamel pot in my kitchen that has written on it - SIMPLIFY!  Okay in theory that is great.  But how do we do that? There are a bunch of books written about how to do it.  But reading another book on simplifying...well I don't have time.  I am simply too busy! 

It doesn't take much to realize that simplifying is about making choices - choices as to what is important and then staying with those choices no matter what.  It isn't necessary to keep adding to the list.

Perhaps as Rick Warren says, we need a NOT TO DO LIST.   I totally buy into the concept that no one is forcing me to keep my life so complicated and that basically I am the only one who has the power to simplify it.

The commode in my upstairs bathroom is leaking, causing the ceiling in the downstairs living room to open up.  Okay Monday that will be addressed. The dogs need to be bathed and groomed, the garage needs cleaning, clothes need washing, my heart needs mending, flowers need to be planted, friends need to be nurtured, and the list goes on. But the outstanding crisis of the weekend so far has been a guest at my bed and breakfast texting me with a 'red alert'.  His wife couldn't find the hair dryer and she was starting to panic.

As I received this text, I was knee deep in eggs, making South Texas Migas for a hundred plus wounded soldiers at the Warrior Family Support Center, many with amputations from IED blasts in Iraq/Afghanistan.  Many with acute PTSD and many just hungry for homemade food and a hug.  One soldier's little two year old baby girl came running into the kitchen and grabbed my leg and thanked me for breakfast.  Another soldier came up and looked me in the eye and told me how much it means to him that we spend our free time on Saturday morning cooking breakfast for him and his buddies. Perhaps he forgot he was in Afghanistan protecting America. 

Okay - "red alert" on a hair dryer or feeding wounded soldiers!!! 

Going back to Rick Warren, "Ultimately, it will be the donation of your life that will count far more than the duration.  It's not how long you live, or even how much you cram into how long you live.  It's really about how you live."  He tells us there are three essential steps toward simplifying our lives. 

"#1 Figure out your purpose then let your purpose guide the goals of your life.

#2  Organize your activities based on your purpose.

#3 Harmonize your schedule with your purpose; that is, bring your activities into agreement with your goals."

So here's the deal. Everytime I do something, I am giving part of my life away.  So why do I spend my time doing useless things that have no meaning or are not based upon my purpose?  So that is my question for today.

Why do any of us bury ourselves in stress and anxiety over things of our own making?  I have made some doozies of mistakes in the past week or so.  Ones I am not proud of. There was a price tag on my decisions - choices.  Hefty significant price tags.  Lessons were learned no matter how painful.  And life goes on. 

Getting back on track perhaps not so easy.  But I guarantee you - I will find the dance floor again, just as the Tree Ducks have found their Spring nesting place in the hollow of an old tree next door!


************** 
"There is more to life than increasing its speed."
Gandhi





Friday, April 16, 2010

MESSAGES

Clean My Air Ducts - Grow Blueberries - and Become a SWAT Team Trainer.  Email messages sent personally just for me this morning. Hummmm. Tempting!

Have you ever wanted to change your life?  Wanted to take on an entirely different persona and run with it!

That's how I feel this morning.Yesterday was a dynamo day.  Accomplished lots.  You know one of those days when everything seems to fall in place and there are more positives than negatives, and you know deep inside that it won't last, but you go with the flow because it is energizing and makes the adrenalin start pumping.  This morning at 6:30 this is not the case.  The battles seem uphill again. 

Tasks disappointingly not completed, a leak in my ceiling, deadlines not met, piles of paper removed from my  desks have been replaced with more and deeper piles.  So how do we compensate?  How do we adapt?  How do we adjust?  Or do we?  What is the price we pay? 

Then I remembered a conversation just last night with a medic just back from Afghanistan. He told me he "loves to love" and has a deep passion for loving all people. Over pork tenderloin and raspberry chipotle sauce, we talked of this passion and compassion and how you can't have one without the other, and we talked about the different levels of love and we talked of war.  He shared with me the story of a little girl in NYC that had fallen from a building and how he (an EMT) had held her to his chest and simply 'loved her.'  He shared with me that he is on this earth to 'listen.'  Not too many people do that.  They are too preoccupied with themselves and their cell phones and messages and text messages and on and on.  Too preoccupied with everything else in their lives but what really matters.  This struck home.  I have spent hours sitting in the ICU Burn Unit waiting room at BAMC with family members just listening.  For them, these people I never will see again, it made a difference.  I loved them in that time and space and I listened.  That was all they needed. They felt valued and cared for and heard. I listened and I heard and I understood what 'my' medic was telling me.

We all need to be listened to.  Really listened to.  But perhaps more than that we need to be heard.  This is where my value is.  This is what I to do.  But the price I have to pay to do this is what?

I too am too preoccupied with the little stuff, the insignificant stuff, the piles of paper on my desk.  The not doing of what I want to do because of all the 'stuff' that needs to be done.  The pages of my calendar are full of tasks to be completed, some urgent, some not, most necessary, some not.  How do we honor that part of us that cries out to be loved, listened to, and heard when all of these piles of paper confront us?  William Shakespeare wrote, "How far your candle throws its beams!"  But how far can the candle throw the beam when you get stuck in stuff?

As Emily Dickinson said, "I felt it shelter to speak to you."  My friend last night, thank you!  I don't feel so alone.  The passion, compassion, and myriad meanings of love, sharing, caring, and listening helped.  I don't feel so alone.

To you I say, "Those who live passionately teach us how to love.  Those who love passionately teach us how to live." - Author Unknown.

So for now, back to the business and busyness of paper.  The rest will wait.  Or will it?  Or should it?



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

"The work of your heart, the work of taking time to listen, to help, is also your gift to the whole of the world."
Jack Kornfield

"You've touched people and known it.  You've touched people and never may know it.  Either way, you have something to give.  It is in giving to one anothr that each of our lives becomes meaningful."
~Laura Schlessinger