Sunday, May 30, 2010

THE GIFT OF LISTENING

 They express their feelings in words most of us don't understand.  They express their feelings from inner wells of courage that are fragile, yet voluminous in strength.  To our military serving today in Iraq and Afghanistan winning is a habit.  They don't take no for an answer. Sometimes the internal gutteral sounds, from our bravest, are shaped into sentences that shake me to the core.  But the great majority of American's, I fear, do not listen.

Why don't they listen?  Or care?  Or understand?  Are their words deposited in a bucket of things to do later when they have the time?  Are they too busy, too preoccupied with their own 'stuff.' As they steamroll through the days they miss the cues and sail right past the chances to make a difference, the chance to do the right thing.

Yesterday the all volunteer Saturday morning breakfast crew served 148 wounded warriors and their families.  Without exception they thanked us for coming and taking our day off to make them breakfast.  One young soldier asked what he could do to pay us back for all we do for them.  I simply kissed his cheek and told him he had already done it....he had gone to war and fought for our freedom.  This is the only homecooked meal they get all week.  Do you know how that makes us feel?  This is what giving back is all about.  This is what listening is all about.

Another, showing me how an IED blast had scared his forearm tattoo, told me "We go to fight for you - to fight so the fight is there, not here.  When asked what he needed, "We need you to be here, in the United States,  fighting for us.  You take care of us and we'll take care of the bad guys."

But where are all of these people fighting for our military?  We occasionally, almost matter of factly, learn of the news of a soldiers passing, a family's mourning, and a nation of courageous young men and women one less. But do we listen to what the universe is telling us? Do we simply say, "That's a shame" and move on.  What is the price of freedom?  Do we really care or understand what sacrifices have been made?

What does it take to make people care?  I am not sure I know.  What I do know is that it takes rare qualities, like caring, time, unselfishness, concentration, and sensitivity.  But perhaps the most important thing of all is to simply listen. 

Providing space for this silence while the other person (in this case our wounded warriors) tells us their stories.  Perhaps the wisest person of all is the person who doesn't feel compelled to fill up the blank spaces with unnecessary words. Listening to someone else, listening, really listening is an art.  Hearing is a gift.  If we interject ourselves into the equation then we find that people bruise easily.  It isn't about us, it is about listening and truly hearing. 

We must learn to listen - to hear - and if necessary, realize that, if we don't the damage may be irreparable.  Listening deeply to to those who have messages to share can offer consolation, reassurance, calmness and ease, security, relief, and a soothing feeling of being cared for and appreciated.

Our personal journeys define and mark us.  To have someone there for us when we are lost can often mean everything.  "One word frees us of all the weight and pain of life:  That word is love."  Words from Sophocles...still pertinent today.  To love our military, to love our friends, to love them enough to listen is everything. To love them enough to hear is extraordinary!

"The world is a looking glass and gives back to everyman the reflection of his own face."
William Thackeray
**************\

"Courage is what it takes to standup and speak.  Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen."
Wiston Churchill

"Being listened to is so close to being loved that most people cannot tell the difference."
Cuban Proverb

Friday, May 28, 2010

WHISPERS AT DAWN

A friend told me this morning that today is the first day of the rest of our lives.  This lead me to wonder what do you do when all your dreams come true.  Do you stop breathing?  Do you find that catch in your heart? Do you honor the universe with a prayer of thanksgiving?  Do you remember to take another breath?  Where do you go from here? Do you make breakfast and turn on the washing machine and take out the trash?  Or do you crumble to your knees and rehearse for the first day of the rest of your life?


Whispers at dawn can obliterate wandering in the wilderness.  Moments of recognition open doors and silence legacies of the past.  The full moon temporarily says goodbye, as it welcomes the sun.  Openings occur.  Openings to a future full of promise and the exquisite nectar of everyday living, and an opening to compassion from which all else comes.

Compassion, like love, starts at home.  Many of us are kind, forgiving, and eager to help and please outside of the home. Others must ask themselves if they are simply trying to portray compassion to feather their own emotional and financial nests?  

Sometimes we exhibit compassion less quickly  inside the home where we are needed the most.  There are times when we all need someone to listen, someone to hear, someone to share, and someone to forgive and someone to go looking for us when we are lost. For in those moments love is born, shelter is given, and compassion for another soul on this earth becomes more important than just about anything.  For each day is not a new beginning, if we don't love, if we don't learn from watching others, if we don't provide a pleasant, nurturing, and peaceful home, we are not honoring that which has been put inside of us. 

As Nadia Boulanger said, "The essential conditions of everything you do must be choice, love, and passion."  Untying the knots in our minds, hearts, and lives guides us to a place where we find love that is embracing, sharing, and a celebration. And it is respect, honor and trust. 

Odd how our culture, sadly, equates desire with having.  Having stuff, having more, having better, having garages full of stuff we eventually sell to someone who puts it in their garage of stuff.  But what do we put into our hearts and souls and spirit?  What do we treasure and nourish and nurture?  Perhaps, just perhaps, it is in the desire to find pleasure in the moment, or in nothing at all specific, that we find we arrive at being everything.  Perhaps this lets us, in the silence, hear the whispers, hear the story, and find out who we are. This is where we find the courage and the wisdom and the understanding to act on a whisper.

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

"It is not time or opportunity that is to determine intimacy - it is disposition alone.  Seven years would be insufficient to make some people acquainted with each other, and seven days are more than enough for others."
Sense and Sensibility ~Jane Austen

Thursday, May 27, 2010

ANGELS BREATHE

Some people come into our lives and simply by being in the same place and space as they are, change us forever - sometimes before our feet have ever left the ground.


Their ability to reach a place deep inside us, provides fuel for making us better people, for humbling us.Their presence can often make us feel grounded, fully alive, and in the moment. 

These people can be our comfort, our refuge, and our nourishment and can disappear as quickly as they came.  It is my belief they come and go in our lives to teach us  lessons. For this we should be most grateful.

A week ago a soldier wheeled into the kitchen at the Warrior Family Support Center for an omelet and a plate of the 'best-ever' hashbrowns.  Days before he had placed a coin in my hand in appreciation and gratitude for the work of my therapy dog, Kelsie, with the wounded warriors. This was an extraordinary honor.  The side of the coin holds the words, "Stay Alert! Stay Alive!" 

But this particular Saturday morning,  he seemed especially happy and in good spirits and in less pain than usual.  I asked how he was doing.  His response of four words with a thumbs up is something I wish every American could wrap their head and heart around.  "Upright with a pulse."

Listening to the conversations of the world I realize my heroes wear combat boots. No matter what the worry-of-the-day is for any of us our military has it much worse. And you know what?  Not once have I ever heard a complaint.  

We do not have to be owned by the pace of our lives.  We do not have to gripe and grumble about the mundance irritants of each day.  What we do need  reverence for is the stuff of life that makes us grounded, fully alive and in the moment.

The wounded warriors that march in and out of my life offer me a feeling of  emotional intimacy.  They are who, and what, grounds me and puts my life into perspective.  Some pass through my life like Joe, a wounded soldier, healed and back to Iraq for a year in a few weeks.  I sat with him last week on a patio and shared a steak and one of the best conversations I have ever experienced.  We talked politics, children, dogs,  and helicopters, while listening to an amazing steel guitar and a band from Bakersfield, California playing a Waylon Jenning's song. He shared with me his feelings at being spat on by Americans in Kansas upon his return injured. I felt repulsed and ill.  He simply smiled and said it is their "right."

With Joe, the fire under my passion was rekindled. I felt, as if in thirty minutes, he had tugged at my heart strings, awakened a fire, and reminded me that angels do indeed walk among us.   I hugged him and whispered into his ear, "You keep us safe and fight for us and you remember this one lady in South Texas who is fighting for you."  He looked at me with what I suspect was the precursor of a tear and mouthed "Thank you I will."
This weekend before Memorial Day I ask you to remember one thing - GOT FREEDOM! THANK OUR TROOPS.



 


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

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

"HAS THE BEER ALWAYS BEEN THIS COLD"

Yesterday was my first day of not being a business owner.  It didn't feel much different, but it did allow me time to reflect on how my own life and house have been neglected.  Keeping the three bed and breakfasts in top notch shape left my home wanting. Wanting the garage cleaned, wanting the bar fridge fixed, wanting the Oriental carpet in the living room cleaned, wanting closets decluttered, faucets replaced, weeds pulled and the typical woman thing...moving the furniture all over the place and ultimately returning it to the same place it was originally!

But in the midst of this realization came a different reality.  Does it really matter?  Sure we want our lives all neat and tidy and predictible, and arranged to our liking, but is  that necessary to enjoy the journey?  Is it necessary to put crystal paperweights on all the piles of paperwork that need attention or does that simply make them prettier to look at?

Maybe we are focusing on the wrong things.  Maybe the things that need our attention are much more important than tidying up our lives, which we all know deep down inside really can't be done.  My garage is brim full of remnants of bed and breakfasts just sold, 'stuff' stuffed where there is no where else to put it, boxes of tax documents that must be kept, paint cans, boxes of 'this and that' unlabled and unnecessary, and then there are the bags and boxes of supplies to send to our deployed military in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Donated toys bound for our troops for humanitarian aid, baby wipes. Hundreds of tubes of toothpaste line the walls of the garage, making access to my car nearly impossible. But these are the things of vast importance.  These are the things that make a difference.  Yes, it would be nice to have a tidy garage and life, but in the vast scheme of  things is this important? 

A soldier called me yesterday from Albuquerque to ask my help on something.  He has severe PTSD and TBI.  Jim can't remember how to tie his shoes or what he had for breakfast twenty minutes earlier, but what he does know is that his responsibility and obligation and dedication to his Army buddies is still, and always will be, paramount. He wants to form an organization to provide service dogs to those returning from harm's way and wants my help. I wonder if he will remember he called me.

His garage of boxes of horror stories of 911 and Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom is a mess, but he knows what is important.  None of us are going to care in a hundred years if the garages of our lives are tidy, but people will remember us for what we did for them and how we made them feel.  Perhaps putting own frivolous wants and needs in the background and focusing on the good we can do others is what it is all about.

I just opened an email from a Marine who just returned home from an undisclosed 'outpost.' He wrote me to tell me he was safe and that he was back 'home.'  Perhaps this home is not neat and tidy and the garage is a mess but he is home.  Perhaps we don't realize that those things that matter are those things that need our attention.  My Marine does.  He ended his email to me with seven words that summed it all up, "Has the beer always been this cold?"

Perhaps he has the answer. Consider, everything we are searching for is right under our noses and has been all along.  We all have the ability to make a difference, to change a life, to do the right thing.  Perhaps we don't realize how blessed we truly are.  Blessed because young men and women leave home to fight so that we have a choice to clean our garages, our messes, or not. 

Today I honor them, their courage, their integrity, their strength and their love of country.  Today I say thank you and Godspeed!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

INSPIRATIONS


"We write because something 'touches' us.  We write because we want to 'touch' someone else.  We write  to 'get in touch' with the divine or because the divine has somehow 'gotten in touch' with us."

The Right to Write
Julia Cameron

Inspiration comes in many forms.  Sometimes rugged and destructive and then sometimes it creeps in almost unnoticed.  And then sometimes it comes straight at you like a hero wearing a cape - to rescue you. 

There are days in the past when I felt I was wandering in the wilderness alone.  These legacies of the past are what form us today.  We all have them.  It is what we do with them that is what matters, not what we allow them to do to us. 

The soldiers have what they call their 'ALIVE DAY'.  This is the day they came close.  It is the  'day they did not die.'  If you twist it just a little - you will realize we all have them.  We all have challenges and the stuff of life that can either knock us to the ground or make us sit up and take notice of all that surrounds us that makes us stronger - of all the beauty that is out there shining for us, if only we grasp the opportunity and let it in!

This morning I stood in my back yard and witnessed something no one else on earth saw or will see on this day in this place.  In my side yard, seemingly hidden from view, were several dozen clusters of wild iridescent mushrooms, reaching for heaven, through a bed of crimson pommegrante blossoms that had fallen from my tree.  A light silver taupe color, tiny and spectacular in their papery thin appearance, with a  mustard colored center, they stood proud and regal, perhaps waiting to be recognized.  Or perhaps they knew they only had but a few hours to shine, to live. Or perhaps not!

If I had not have been in the back yard at that moment, I would never had seen them.  I would never have been in complete and total amazement at the beauty of their few short hours on this earth.  The moment would have been missed, before a heartbeat took them away. 

You never know what is around the corner waiting to be discovered.  Sometimes you simply have to take that leap of faith - take that leap of faith afraid.

Today I invite you to take a chance and seize the moment, that one beautiful fleeting moment, that life offers you only once. Do it afraid!  Do it afraid.  But do it!  We are here on this wild and crazy ride of life for such a short time.  A plaque hangs in my bathroom that centers me when I feel like I am spinning out of control.  I have written it here before, but it bears repeating. "As eternity is reckoned there's a lifetime in a second."  Piet Hein

There was a lifetime in the journey of these wild mushrooms.  As I ran to get my camera, I did not know that in only moments they would disappear without a trace.  They changed me - these mushrooms.  I soon realized that around the corner, perhaps when you least expect it, you just might find beauty, and inspiration, and if you are incredibly blessed, you just might find love.

What if I had never seen them? How often do we walk by something so exquisite that it can take our breath away - never see it - never experience it?  It is our greatest loss.  Not observing, not knowing, not loving is our greatest loss.

So this morning I say thank you for the mushrooms and that I could, if only for a moment, experience them and be witness to something no one else saw.  One moment of wonder - glorious wonder!

Where do you experience wonder?  Where do you delight in the simpler things?  Where are you challenged to let go and open your heart and your eyes to those things that really matter? 

These places are all around you, if you will only open your eyes and your heart and see.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

WHERE THE WILD PEARS GROW

Along a dusty road a wild pear tree grows.  A pear tree whose blossoms are quite still.

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


By a house collapsed.
A pear tree is blooming;
Here a battle was fought.
'Haiku'
R.H. Blyth


The house has no doubt been in disrepair for no apparent reason, from disuse or lack of repair or love.  The pear tree stands firm and tall and proud and beautiful.  It has no further association with the house, 
Yet blooms next to this crumbled hut. 

A life journey where we stand next to the dilapidation of a lifetime of lessons and a lifetime of times and places and spaces where battles have been fought. 
Lost and won. 
But we still have the ability to bloom.
Before and after...
The price of freedom.

When despair for the world grows in me 

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.



-"The Peace of Wild Things" by Wendell Berry
 

Sunday, May 16, 2010

THE TALLEST MAN I EVER MET

I remember going to the circus when I was a little girl.  I remember the sword swallower, the fat lady,  the fire-eater, the bearded lady, the tall man. They were advertised as  the 'freaks of nature'.  I remember an overwhelming feeling of saddess for them.  I don't think at that time I knew the word 'exploited,' but I felt distress that they were put on a stage and people laughed and pointed at them, then walked away with a bag of popcorn in their hands and a strange satisfying look on their faces.

I tell you this because I was recently told a story about an disgusting event that took place at a large popular 'super' store.  An American hero, a soldier, was there shopping with his wife and kids, like any other family.  He had answered the call, gone to Iraq to fight for our freedom, our freedom to walk into a store like this one and be able to find fresh produce, garden supplies, televisions, and welcome mats. 

While protecting our shores, he had been in a humvee when it hit an IED.  He suffered burns over 90% of his body.  He had suffered excruciating pain, was put into an induced coma, and hospitalized for over two years.  As he entered the store, people, stared at him, turned away from him, pointed at him, and children called him a 'freak' and were scared of him.  One parent went to the store manager and asked them to do something.  "Do Something! He is scaring my children." 

There were multiple choices the manager could have made. He could have set an example and gone to this Amerian hero, extended his hand and said thank you for his service and sacrifice.  He could have offered him and his family a gift card.  He could have applauded and knelt down and kissed this guys boots for what he had sacrified for our freedom.  But instead he asked him to leave 'his' store.  He asked him to leave the store, because he was scaring children.

It is beyond my ability to even know how to string the words this morning to tell you how this disgusts and repels me.  I leave the computer and try to think of the right words to say.  I come back and still don't have them.  Then perhaps, sometimes there just aren't any words to put together to convey a thought or an emotion or a stabbing pain. I wish I had been there. The outcome would have been different!

Men and women everyday are making the ultimate sacrifice in the global war on terror.  They have without resistence gone into harm's way and their lives have been extinguished way too soon.  I find it the ultimate tragedy that so many examples of the qualities we all admire in a human being, like courage, honor, and integrity, have been taken from us.  And in many cases we are left with the 'store managers.'

Yesterday, Armed Forces Day, I invited a friend to help cook omelets and hashbrowns for wounded warriors and their families at the Warrior Family Support Center.  We were honored to nourish one hundred and eight hungry souls, with both food and love.  We fed amputees, soldiers with PTSD and TBI, and a woman with seven children and her husband in the hospital with little to no memory left, and soldiers having just left Iraq days before with 140 degrees and burning blowing sand and unending and unnerving fear. 

We watched members of a local organization assemble wheelchairs with the assistance of our wounded warriors for amputees in third world countries on the patio of the Warrior Family Support Center.  They were giving back. They were not looking for applause, only a cup of coffee.  I was reminded of Ralph Waldo Emerson when he wrote,  "The purpose of life is not to be happy.  It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well." 

We all thirst for grace.  But sometimes it feels like catching lightening. Sometimes there are some who don't want to see or feel or care or witness or show compassion.  Then there are those of us, like my friend with me yesterday, that feel that incredible depth and intensity of compassion and caring and feeling and ultimately passion.

I introduced my friend to one of my favorite soldiers, L., a bilateral leg amputee with half of his skull missing from an IED blast in Iraq.  We sat in the beautifully appointed living room at the Fisher House and visited about his day, the weather, breakfast, and his beautiful wife.  We introduced ourselves to a soldier, M. sitting next to him in a wing back chair.  He was the physician's assistant, the medic that saved L's life. It didn't take long to sense the air permeated with the depth of bond, the attachment, between these two.  They are closer than brothers, or fathers and sons.  They are united in a way most of us will never know, experience, or understand.  It is for a lifetime.  It is that 'no matter what' bond. 

It didn't take long for the conversation to progress to concerns for Amerian's that simply sweep this war, and these soldiers who gave all and will never be the same again, under the carpet.  If they don't hear about it, see it, or experience it first hand it isn't real.  But it is real.  The pain is real, the ongoing nightmares are real, the fear of leaving your apartment is real, and their need of appreciation is real.  They don't ask for much.  Because of men like L. and M., we are able to go on about our daily lives.  But what isn't understood is that there is a price that has been paid for us to be able to do that. A price that is way too dear.

My friend called me late last night to thank me 'for introducing him to my world.'  Had it not been on the telephone, I would not have had to say anything.  For he understands. And he knows I understand.  He gets it and more to the point he cares.  He has compassion and love for people and for our soldiers that allow us to live in a free country, where a medic takes leave to go check on the man whose life he saved.  How often do we even take the time to check on a neighbor? 

I was drained emotionally, as was my friend.  He thanked me for what  he felt was, truly 'the best day of his life.'  And he thanked me for introducing him to L., "the tallest person I have ever met."  I understood what he said.  I understand his passion and he mine. There were no other words necessary. Yesterday on Armed Forces Day we witnessed over and over and over again the true, real and poignant price of freedom. We shall not forget.








Friday, May 14, 2010

REALITY

On the eve of Armed Forces Day, I wish to share this with you.

Two years ago I wrote a soldier, on his second deployment to Iraq, and asked what inspired him. He wrote to me and said, " I will try my best to answer you. What inspired me was the fact that I got to contribute in joining the men and women who are defending our freedom. I am inspired by the  others who are giving up the same as I am to complete this mission. When I first  received my orders, I was so excited to be able to go. Then when I was at the  airport and the Head Chaplain was saying a prayer and telling me how dangerous  it was there.  Reality hit! I became very scared of the unknown. I got sick and had panic attacks.

This was so very different to me because I am a police officer. I have been shot at three times, I seen many mutilated bodies, and I have seen just about every horrible thing you could imagine. I have made it through all of them. Now, this was the unknown and I just didn't know how to handle it. Every time I ended up in a different place I had panic attacks. Bad ones too. In the back of my head I could feel something that kept telling me "once you get there it will be Okay and you can get going with your job." But I didn't trust my instincts. I went through 11 days of the worst time of my  life. After I would start to settle in, I would have to move again and that would  kill me.

Guess what? As soon as I got to my final destination, I started working  and everything went away. Just like that little voice told me. 

I guess things that inspired me were when people would come up and thank me,  when the waitresses would come up and say "your bill was paid by the guy walking out". Kids looking up at me and saying hello. Seeing those kids and saying to myself " I am going to be part of the reason why this kid is going to be able to grow up and have a family and grandkids. Also the thought of the stories I would be able to tell my Grandkids. What's putting a smile on my face  right now is thinking that my kids and grandkids can say to others 'my father and grand father fought for our freedom, while they are standing over my grave that will have the American Flag engraved on it saying 'United States Army.'"

U.S. Army Chaplain S.L.

In a perfect world it would be great if we all lived in peace, but we don't.  I for one am blessed that these men and women are there protecting us.  Thank you!  For the work you do and  sacrifices you make, for all you do, and all you see, and for being the kind of men and women that you are.



A few weeks ago, I had my therapy dog Kelsie with me. at BAMC and sat with B. for an hour. He lost both legs and the use of one arm and has a TBI. He told me of his wife, K., and his dog, and his dreams. He wants to ride  horses and is working toward that goal of feeling the freedom of  that movement - 'almost like I had legs'.

M. is a soldier with  a TBI and PTSD.  He can't sleep for the nightmares and suffers chronic  debilitating pain. For a few all too short minutes, he becomes a young man again when he cradles Kelsie's head close to his chest.

The wives that struggle with a husband that struggles. The burned soldiers that worry whether or  not their children will be afraid of them. These are the soldiers I work with daily.


So on the day before Armed Forces Day - to all of them that I am able to reach out to and all of those I'm not, thank you.


You are loved, you are appreciated and you are blessed. I am deeply grateful and humbled to know you have my back.




I had asked Chaplain S how he deals with compassion fatigue because I do.  His response follows.  I hope my dog teams read this carefully.


"Dear Patsy,
In what we do we have to be very careful. My mother was a nurse and I was about 14 years old. She got a patient who was a quadrapalegic. I remember people telling her to NOT get attached. He was a young male and she was used to taking care of older people; she became attached. Well he passed and our family went through so much pain because of how it effected her. My point is in what we do you have to condition your mind to say We cannot be selfish God needs these people for a much more important purpose. Just as God put you where you are for your important misson.


People will feed off of others attitudes. When you and your dogs are with those guys they feed off of your attitudes. There are so many soldiers here that tell me they love running into me, because I'm always smiling and joking around and that puts them in a good mood. You're doing the same thing. So what happens when we get stressed out with all of this? God introduces you to me.

Although we only know each other by the words in these emails, we feel the real power of God and his love for us. You shouldn't feel sadness. Feeling sadness is simply saying " I feel sorry for you," and most people don't want that.


Let those soldiers know that everyday you  spend with them makes you a more quality person and thank them. That will really change their lives and make them feel better.

You can vent to me when ever you want. Someday I will need you to vent to also."
God Bless,
S


God Bless America in all places and at all times.











Thursday, May 13, 2010

MAKING CHOICES

Cleaning out the book cases at my bed and breakfasts, (at least they are mine for two more weeks) I found a book called "Making Choices" by Alexandra Stoddard.  Well, you know me well enough by now to know that that would be today's topic.

I spent most of yesterday at the Warrior Family Support Center at Brooke Army Medical Center.   It is here, as in most places of healing and recovery, where choices are made minute to minute.  Soldiers were lined up to have barbequed brisket, beans and potato salad prepared by volunteers. 

My Kelsie's nose was in the air twitching with anticipation of a morsel being dropped.  And as always, I was in anticipation of one of those everyday, ordinary, extraordinary miracles that happen each and every time I walk in the door of this facility.

We all make choices.  We decide before we are out of bed, if it is going to be a good day or not.  We decide what to wear, what to have for breakfast, which direction to drive to work, what on our desks need attention first, and on and on.  But how many of us make a conscious decision, a choice, to have joy and happiness in the life we are living?  This life the one we have right now.  Not the one we hope we have one day after we get a better job, more money, win the lottery, or the kids are through school.  But this one.

Our choices are what we make of them.  We can choose to cringe at the choices and run from them, or choose to attack them head on. Or do as I do, and if you aren't sure of the right thing to do - do nothing.  This is my choice.  And on those occasions when I deviate from this and jump in with both feet, I feel something isn't quite right.

In Stoddard's book she writes, "There are never perfect choices, but there are wise, wonderful, and sensible choices." But it goes without saying that there are also those that fall flat!  I have come to believe that the world is in need of deeply committed people.  People who are committed to being happy.  "People who seem the most unhappy are the ones whose time is taken up by too much that is repetitive, routine, and ultimately uncreative."  If having a clean and tidy house or putting more money in the bank or taking expensive vacations becomes a higher priority than anything else, then what happens?  Then self pity and self absorption becomes insidious. You basically make a choice that will dig you into a hole that becomes deeper and deeper.  As Stoddard says, "The deeper the hole, the less chance you'll ever escape.  Complaining about your misery is self destructive because it guarantees that you feel awful."  That sentence is worth rereading!

Today I had plans.  I had a conference call with five people in New York at 8:00 am CST. I had the day measured out.  I had things to do, places to be, stuff to get off my list. It hasn't gone that way.  Back and forth emails and faxes from my realtor and the deadline of twelve noon rapidly approaching to initial and sign documents, phone calls and emails interrupting my life.  But in coming back to this blog on numerous occasions to complete it, I realized I had a choice too.  I could choose to be grumbling about all the interruptions or choose to take a deep breath and go with it.  I laughed with the realtor, had a meaningful conversation with a Vietnam vet, found a source for a lady in Boston with a heart condition for a detection dog, and talked to a team member in Houston about an organization called Vets Journey Home and their visit from our therapy dog, Whopper, who will be attending an event for them this weekend, and finally a conversation with my son in law about passing a kidney stone, and an email from a best friend that her sister has stage four cancer.  

My plate is still full of things undone, my tummy never got breakfast or lunch and my dogs are begging to be let outside.  But I wouldn't trade my life for anyones.  Sure there are times I ache for nothing to do, or to see a real person at least once a day on days like this.  But those of you who know me best, know I would find something to do because that would be my choice.

Love life, love this one great big life you have with all you've got and all your heart.  It may not be perfect, but it doesn't have to be.  Danny Kay hit the nail on the head, "“Life is a great big canvas, and you should throw all the paint you can on it.” Embrace this day, this hour, this minute.  Squeeze all the joy out of it you can. 

"The hardest thing in life is to know which bridge to cross and which to burn."
~David Russell~

'I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
 ~Maya Angelou~


I consider our soldiers. They do not complain or live buried in misery despite their plight.  I choose to emmulate them and a young lady, a soldier, just back from Iraq who has serious back problems and acute PTSD/TBI.  As she saw a Penny's From Heaven Foundation PTSD support dog asleep on the floor of the WFSC yesterday, she smiled, rose in pain from the sofa, and walked over to Chase. In a room full of 50-60 people, she cautiously lowered herself,  painfully, to the wooden floor and snuggled close.  She wrapped her arms around him, rested her head on his side, as he quietly inhaled and exhaled, offering a soft music that quieted this soldier's soul.  She never complained.  Quite the opposite she talked about what she wanted to do when her many surgeries are over.  Her choice is clear. 

Perhaps the answer is easy.  Perhaps she has seen the worst of life in combat.  Perhaps she chooses now to be happy.  She knows ultimately life is precious, fleeting and worthy of our attention and gratitude.  She puts empty cups in her refrigerator.  She doesn't know why.  It is a part of her brain injury.  But she laughs at it by choice.  "At least I know where I can find one."

She is an inspiration. 

She is what making choices is all about.













Wednesday, May 12, 2010

DOING THE RIGHT THING

I have spent the past several days going back and forth to  Fredericksburg, Texas from San Antonio, preparing to close my bed and breakfasts.  As I enter town I see the Nimitz Museum and the birthplace across the street of Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. Yesterday I remembered one of his famous quotes that has stuck with me for years."God grant me the courage not to give up what I think is right even though I think it is hopeless."  Perhaps sometimes that feels like beating your head into a concrete wall and sometimes you wonder why  you are even trying.  When these thoughts float in and out of my head, I am assured that most of the time and as far as I know,  I am doing the right thing.  And more importantly, I am doing the right thing for the right reasons.  There are no hidden agendas or ulterior motives or payoffs.

I thought about Admiral Nimitz's words most of the day while working. Then a conversation tonight with a friend cemented the deal. I thought about how fundamentally easy it is to do the right thing. If you have integrity, then nothing else matters. And if you don't have integrity, the same, nothing else matters.  I am surrounded daily by people in my business, patients and injured soldiers and friends and neighbors.  They watch me, observe me and some are jealous, some glad they are not me, and some try to emmulate me and some not.  It is a burden to carry some of the time and then there are other times when I realize my actions, my life, and my gifts to the world may be the only Bible some people will ever read. So I try to always do the right thing. 

This isn't always accomplished to everyone's satisfaction, but perhaps there is a reason for that.  They don't 'get it'.  They are thinking there should be a payoff for them.  They should get something out of this.  They will be nice, because   then they will get a raise, get their ego stroked, they will be noticed, they will receive a plaque to put on the wall, or they will get the gold watch. 

But what about doing something because it is quite simply the right thing to do?  I just finished wiring an old lamp.  And as I did so I thought about how we are all wired differently.  But why can't we all strive to be good, to do the right thing, just to be good.  Why do we need a payoff? Why do we need the praise and accolades of others. Isn't being good, good enough.  It seems simple. Abraham Lincoln said, "When I do good, I feel good.  When I do bad, I feel bad.  That's my religion."

Everything a person does and everything a person shows you, tells you who they are.  Their actions are quite simply a self-portrait.  The question is - are they proud enough of their actions to put an autograph on their self portrait? Are their actions done for the right reasons?

Watching special needs kids read to Penny's from Heaven Foundation therapy dog Xena today at Ft. Sam Elementary School taught me a great lesson.  These children, often with one hand resting on Xena's head, and the other hand holding a book, struggled with each word and sentence.  But it was in their struggling that they showed me who they were.  They tried and tried again.  They wanted to please and they tried until they got it right.  They tried because Xena was attentive and observant and non judgmental.  They tried because it made them proud.  It made them feel good.  They tried because it was the right thing to do. They didn't do it for applause, approval, congratulations, honor or admiration.  They did it because it was the right thing to do.

Doing good things for the wrong reasons doesn't make it right. That doesn't mean that doing the right thing doesn't bring us payoffs.  But the payoffs have to be won by the right reasons. 

The "Special Needs" teacher, Miss Laura, went through dog training classes, worked diligently with her boxer to achieve the results she wanted.  She wanted a fine, solid therapy dog.  Months ago in her essay to me stating why she wanted a therapy dog, she said she just knew this is what Xena was meant to do.  Today on her first day in the Reading Education Assistance Dog Program Xena proved her right.  Laura went through all of this work for the right reasons.  She struggled to get to class on time from across town in rush hour traffic with her dog, missed dinner with her family, came when she was tired, and all for the right reasons.  She was determined.  She was doing the right thing  for the right reasons.  And yes she received a reward, a payoff, as each child read to Xena and then was allowed to give her one little kibble as a reward. 

You see -doing the right thing for the right reasons is the reward. 

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

“Leaders are people who do the right thing; managers are people who do things right.”

~Warren G. Bennis~

 

That you may retain your self-respect, it is better to displease the people by doing what you know is right, than to temporarily please them by doing what you know is wrong.

~William J. H. Boetcker~

“Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don't give up.”

~Anne Lamott~


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

Please help us support our dogs in the READ program.
Two hundred and fifty dollars will support one dog for one year.
http://www.pennysfromheavenfoundation.org/
210 273 6471








Tuesday, May 11, 2010

TODAY SAY THANK YOU TO A SOLDIER

"This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine..."

I don't know anybody who isn't haunted by something.  It shows up in what we do, how we do it and how we treat people. Compassion might just be the cure.

I am totally convinced that compassion is the best therapeutic agent in existence.  I have struggled with looking through the lens of a camera, or at a TV screen, or computer monitor, not hiding  and really, really seeing.  Seeing places and circumstances that teach us daily to suffer and to hopefully find it within ourselves to give back with compassion.  Perhaps then, compassion is a catalyst for, not only passion, but also for love.

Working with my soldiers I find that the single most important responsibility that I have is to encourage this love and compassion.  It is also painful at times for both of us.  I absolutely believe that these men and women who have gone to war have misplaced the ability to know these traits and to feel love, understanding,  tolerance and how to forgive and sometimes to accept forgiveness.  But I also know they understand how to live life fully. In the end, we have much to teach each other.  We must all seek to make our soldier's wellbeing the object of our concern.  We must assist in the healing for where they are right now and where they are going.  And we must let them know wherever and whatever they are experiencing  is okay, as we find we must provide a sanctuary in the storm for many of them when they return!  We must help them learn to remember that they too need to give themselves grace.

With my soldiers the lump in my throat sometimes comes with tears attached. It isn't always easy, it isn't always pretty.  But  it is what I do and where I belong.

I hear over and over again from friends and people who 'don't get it', "Why do you do this?" "How do you do this." "You work so hard for a just handful of soldiers when there are thousands returning that need help too."  My answer to them is, "How can I not do it?"  They shake their head and tell me 'well I couldn't do it.' What if our soldiers said that - that they couldn't do it.  All too often people hide from what they don't want to know or what they don't want to see.  How sad, when all our soldiers want  is to be appreciated for their sacrifices and that what they gave was not in vain. Just sitting with them shows them I care.  Making a homecooked breakfast for hundreds of them shows them I care.  And you know what? Without exception over my omelet pan, dozens and dozens of soldiers, their moms, dads, wives, sisters, children come up to me and say 'thank you.'  It just doesn't get any better than that.  I was on television for twenty years with a daily cooking show and in the process authored fifty cookbooks.  None of that has ever meant as much to me as one soldier coming up and saying 'thank you.'  Maybe you understand this, maybe you don't. It doesn't matter.  I know. 

So if someone is overwhelmed by the light of my passion, I invite them to wear sunglasses and get out of my way.  This is an inner journey, my inner journey, not  an outer one.  This is what makes my life full of meaning and passion, instead of sleepwalking through life like so many, many others.  The soldiers have been changed, and I have been changed because of them.  I will never be the same.  We all need to feel this awe.  I feel it with each soldier, in heartfelt moments and in beautiful timing, one at a time.  These men and women are of value, today I ask you to make them a priority, to help them find their place in the universe again.

When bad things happen to good people doing good, sometimes the answers aren't everything.  Ask the questions from your heart and not your head. This is where the answers come.  This is where grace enters.

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

   Time never stops to rest, never hesitates, never looks forward or backward.  Life's raw material spends itself now, this moment - which is why how you spend your time is far more important than all the material possessions you may own or positions you may attain."
"Denis Waitley

"Great minds have purposes: others have wishes."
Washington Irving

"What one approves, another scorns,
And thus his nature each discloses:
You find the rosebush full of thorns,
I find the thornbush full of roses."
Arthur Guiterman

"We do not remember days, we remember moments."
Cesare Pavese

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

Thistle Photo Courtesy
Penny's From Heaven Foundation Volunteer - Cliff Manis
God Bless Our Troops Photo - Patsy Swendson

Please help us help our soldiers.
http://www.pennysfromheavenfoundation.org/
210 273 6471

Monday, May 10, 2010

"WOULDN'T IT BE LOVERLY?"

Whatever you vividly imagine, ardently desire, sincerely believe, and enthusiastically act upon must inevitably come to pass!
~Paul J. Meyer~

************************ 

Think about this. Is your life effective?  Are you always standing in the doorway of your life and never invited in? Have you ever felt if you don't, or choose not to commit to something, you can't lose it?

Success is based upon self discipline. Isn't it about time you get passionate about something?  How long have you been without love?  I don't mean only the romantic kind, I mean the kind of passion and love and verve for life that makes you want to get out of bed in the morning and begin again.  The kind that makes people wonder where that smile on your face comes from and what you have been up to. That special feeling deep inside that tells you that you are in the right place at the right time doing the right thing. Joi de vivre!

You can buy entertainment, but you can't buy happiness. One needs to look internally for happiness, not externally. Finding what is true to your heart will lead you to your passion.  Perhaps in finding this passion you will find it necessary to say goodbye to parts of your life that are no longer effective, or parts that are are stuck in neutral, or are joyless or are draining you dry.  I believe with all my heart that the purpose of our lives is to find happiness and fulfillment and joy in what we are doing. 

There have been times I found myself pleading for my life, wondering if the pain of unknown origin would ever end.  I see this look in the faces of way too many people.  They go through the motions of caring and being passionate, but in the long run it is benign neglect of our own life, 'full of sound and fury representing nothing.'
In whose presence do you feel safe and joyful?  Many of us live in places where we feel excluded. 
The bottom line is how do we deal with the tough stuff, what we care about, what we love. What and where is our center?

May Sarton said, "Most people have to talk, so they won't hear." I will take it one step further...so they won't have to feel...so they won't have to care...so they won't have to love, so they won't have to take a risk. Most people today are connected to an IPod or an Iphone or anything where they have no direct contact with others.  No wonder we lose touch with those we care for the most  and our well goes dry.  We need to reach out to others and touch them in a personal way, a way that says I care for you, you are important to me. Much the way our precious dogs do for our patients and soldiers.  These dogs can bridge a cap in ways that aren't easily explained.  Or are they?  Perhaps our dogs have a better sense of communication that do we.  They convey comfort and affection wordlessly and respond to a wide variety of complex situations and emotions without risk of  misunderstanding or trivialization.

They convey encouragement, support, kindness, empathy, affection, and humor.  If the mere presence of a dog can do that imagine what the power of reaching out to another human being with grace, joy, and acceptance can do. 

Perhaps it is because dogs seek companionship yet are not emotionally demanding or draining or threatening.  My dogs give me an emotional break.  They accept me without judgment and do not base their love on my behaving a certain way or only under certain conditions, or performing the way they think I should.

My soldiers are frequently absorbed in their own problems, causing emotional distress and demanding all the attention.  The therapy dogs can shift their attention, if only for a while reducing anxiety and depression.  Working with a soldier and a dog allows things to happen that wouldn't happen without the dog.  The abilities of both are enhanced by the presence of the other. 

Wouldn't that be nice between people?  The dogs are not there to talk about how they got into the predicament, but to focus on hope and the future.  They all lift spirits, bring a smile, and change an outlook, and they all offer hope without interjecting their own issues into the equation. Dogs do not have an agenda!

DOGS ARE PASSIONATE. It is quite simply that easy.  The following is from my book Penny's From Heaven Stories of Healing  (http://www.pennysfromheavenbook.com/) - perhaps there are great lessons and golden values to be learned from a dog.

GOLDEN VALUES

Love like there is no tomorrow.
Be happy no matter what someone does to you.
Lie in the grass on a warm summer day.
Stretch before getting up.
Beg for a long walk.
Be fascinated with a simple routine.
Enjoy eating the same food every day.
Do the responsible thing even though it isn't always popular.
Act goofy once in a while, just because.
Drink lots of water.
When you're happy, wag your whole body.
Be loyal.
Eat with great enthusiasm.
Rejoice at the wind in your fae.
Play daily.
Be joyful.
If someone is hurting, sit real close, be very quiet and softly nuzzle them.

Copyright Penny's from Heaven, Patsy Swendson, Langmarc Publishing - 2006


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

2 210 273 6471


 


Sunday, May 9, 2010

EMBRACE THE POSITIVE

It was a velvet green day, full of wind and promise - the beginning of surprises and sunrise and awakenings.

It was also another day when I found it wasn't about me.  It was about a soldier, back from Iraq.  In the few short weeks since his return, he has lived a lifetime.

This handsome, courageous Ranger's second deployment brought him home to two children, a little boy three and a baby girl just two, to find his wife was leaving him and the children. "She had had enough."  Suddenly and unexpectedly finding himself a single parent, K. was also face to face with serious heart surgery, as well as  knee surgery from an IED blast in Iraq.   

He isn't angry.  He isn't keeping score.  He still breathes with a little difficulty following his heart surgery, but finds it a 'bit easier each day to keep up with the two toddlers." I found his attitude overwhelmingly positive, as I watched his children play with our therapy dogs on the playground at the Fisher House. It was obvious that to this brave soldier love is truly an energy that is never exhausted, for "Surrender is not a Ranger word."

Today he is both their dad and their mom.  I watched as he made them Chocolate Smoothies in the blender, pouring them into cups and adding a straw as he handed them to the kids, cautioning to 'hold them with both hands.' The kids are nourished and loved and well cared for.  The little girl came up to me quite naturally and snuggled into my lap and put her head on my chest while she sipped her 'smoothie.'  This Mother's Day morning I can't help but wonder if their mother ever thinks of them or misses her babies. It makes my heart ache.

K. is going back to Iraq, as soon as he is medically able.  The kids will go to his brother. 

I share this with you today so you will understand, truly understand, what one soldier's sacrifice is all about.  What all of our soldier's sacrifices are  about. And what a positive attitude can offer all of us.

The one thing that consistently amazes me is that in the face of war, in the face of injuries, in the face of lost lives and families and loved ones, our soldiers remain positive.  In all the years I have been working with  my hundreds of soldiers, not once has one ever complained.  Not once. In excruciating pain, devasted by their wives leaving  them, the loss of their buddies, not once have I heard a soldier complain.  How many times a day do we complain about the way someone has treated us, about the rain, about the heat, about traffic, about a car that jumps in front of us, about all the work we have to do? How often we allow little stuff to control our attitude.

Mark Twain said, "Grief can take care of itself; but to get the full value of joy you must have somebody to divide it with."  I understand that.  It isn't fun living alone, eating alone, coming home to an empty house.  I feel sad sometimes, but in the end I have a house, and I have food, and I have friends because of soldiers like K.,  who have sacrified dearly so that I might love concretely- love a tree, a sunset, a cloud, a buzzing bee, a horse, a dog,  or a child drinking a chocolate smoothie.  Because of K.,  I know that the single most important thing is to love life, to hold those you love close, eliminate the negative from your life that pulls you down, and give generously, because in so doing we heal ourselves.

Soldiers like him have taught me that feeling what others feel is a natural thing when you live in love.  The same love I would give a spouse, or a soldier, or a child can also be given to complete strangers.  Suffering is central to the human condition, but  loving our fellow man we share this planet with, is vital.

Love is magical and mysterious and above all should slather us with joy.  For if there is neither love nor joy there is nothing.  The emptiness it brings demolishes us.  Life is simply too short. Hit the 'delete' button.

I gave this alarmingly handsome Ranger a hug before saying goodbye.  I told him I would see him at the Warrior Family Support Center on Wednesday with my therapy dog Kelsie and Saturday for breakfast.  He smiled and said he would be there.  Today I ask you to say thank you into the wind for this man and all  the men like him, who protect and defend without complaint.  And I ask you to embrace the positive in your life and find joy.  This life is too short to grumble and gripe.  Joy is contagious.  Surround yourself with people who offer you joy, surround yourself with people who make you smile, surround yourself with those things and people that offer you joy and love and a warm heart. 

*******************
The Ranger Creed

Recognizing that I volunteered as a Ranger, fully knowing the hazards of my chosen profession, I will always endeavor to uphold the prestige, honor, and high esprit de corps of my Ranger Regiment.

Acknowledging the fact that a Ranger is a more elite soldier who arrives at the cutting edge of battle by land, sea, or air, I accept the fact that as a Ranger my country expects me to move further, faster and fight harder than any other soldier.

Never shall I fail my comrades. I will always keep myself mentally alert, physically strong and morally straight and I will shoulder more than my share of the task whatever it may be. One-hundred-percent and then some.

Gallantly will I show the world that I am a specially selected and well-trained soldier. My courtesy to superior officers, neatness of dress and care of equipment shall set the example for others to follow.

Energetically will I meet the enemies of my country. I shall defeat them on the field of battle for I am better trained and will fight with all my might. Surrender is not a Ranger word. I will never leave a fallen comrade to fall into the hands of the enemy and under no circumstances will I ever embarrass my country.

Readily will I display the intestinal fortitude required to fight on to the Ranger objective and complete the mission though I be the lone survivor.

Rangers Lead The Way!

http://www.pennysfromheavenfoundation.org/