Friday, July 30, 2010


Kiana took her first steps at the Lackland AFB Fisher House surrounded by her mom and dad and adopted families.  Everyone was holding their breath, as she walked into the playroom in her little red socks, golden hair and brilliant, beaming blue eyes, with the longest eye lashes I have ever seen.  She kept taking short inhalations, accompanied by small precious smiles. As her steps became more confident, it was as if she had conquered the world.  It was in her face, in her eyes, and in her spirit.

These first baby steps led her into the children's play room, at this home away from home for our sick or wounded military and their families.  Kiana instantly saw Kelsie, and with great intent rushed, on wobbly little legs to throw her arms around this dog, on this occasion of her first steps. The first steps of the rest of her life. All you could hear from her parents and the other adults gathered were the words, "She's walking!  She's walking!"  There were tears in her daddy's eyes, and as he unashamedly wiped them away, his life changed in front of us all. 

Daddy's little girl - for better, for worse, for life had just taken her first steps!

But what her mom and dad didn't realize was all of the love that surrounded this child and all of the hearts that were touched by this amazing and unexpected gift she shared with all of us.

We all take baby steps.  We all enter uncharted waters with wobbly legs and a scared heart.  And we all have a sense of wonder and delight of where we might be heading and what lies out there waiting.  We reach out trepedaciously, but if we are strong enough, and brave enough and persistent enough, we can reach our goals.  And like Kiana, we can shine all the way there.  We can grow and delight in the journey or we can plop down on the floor and cry.

Kiana fell multiple times, but never a tear.  There was only determination in her face each time she fell, as she got back up and continued toward her goal - Kelsie.

It was a moment I won't forget.  For although Kiana's grandparents weren't present for this event, there were many other excited grandparents there, just for the night, just for the moment. What a blessing.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


She sat on the floor in her BDU's, stroking Kelsie with short, soft caresses.  She never stopped smiling.  Her face was relaxed and totally unaware of the 'magic' that was occuring. The chaos in the room did not exist for her at that moment.  

 Less that a week ago she had been in Iraq.  Now she sat on the floor, quietly whispering barely audible words to Kelsie about how soft her ears were, how beautiful she was, and how she had, had a dog once. She had 'never seen such a beautiful building or such a special dog.'  She opened her camo covered notebook and searched for an Army pin for Kelsie's vest.  Distraught at being unable to find one, I assured her that it was not a problem and that Kelsie was honored she had wanted to give her one.

Never taking her eyes off of Kelsie she told me that that morning she had yelled at someone.  Someone who probably deserved it, but now because of Kelsie she felt more relaxed, and she wanted to go apologize to them.  "Kelsie is the best thing that has happened to me since I returned from Iraq.  Thank you for bringing her. When will you be back." 

There are those times when I know my presence is not necessary.  This was one of those times.  This was just between K. and Kelsie.  She had been Infantry in Iraq and witnessed atrocities beyond the scope of our understanding.  Petting this dog was close to Heaven for her. It was simple.  It was uncluttered.  It was liberating.  She explained how she did not understand why others died and she didn't.  "I should have died.  I feel guilty.  I feel sorry for their wives and children.  Why did I live?"

I had no answers, except to tell her that she had been spared for a reason and that reason was not apparent now, but would be one day.  She changed the conversation, asking me if I minded if she called Kelsie Miss KayKay.  "Of course she will love it."  "And may I call you Miss P.?"  "Of course."  "You see my short term memory is not so good.  I only wish my memories of Iraq......."  Her voice quivered and she again began petting Kelsie.

All she could say over and over was, "I can't believe I am here. I can't believe I am here."

Then as quickly as she came she was leaving.  She gave Kelsie, asleep on her lap, a hug and a kiss.  Then simply said, "Miss KayKay I wish I had a song to sing you."

Isn't that what most of us want?  Someone to sing us a song when we need it the most.  Someone to sing us a lullaby and make all the nightmares and scary things under the bed disappear.  I wish I had a song to sing to K.  I wish I could make the demons and horrors of war go away with a song.

Monday, July 26, 2010


"We are who we are as much because of our relationships with non-human animals as because of the human ones, and we do ourselves a great disservice - and probably great harm - by denying or ignoring this."
~Anthony L. Podherscek

A friend died last Thursday.  He shall be missed.  The twinkle in his blue eyes, the look of pure joy and love, as he sat in his wheelchair and saw Kelsie coming to visit him in the hospital.  He taught me that the greatest challenges that life throws at us are but stepping stones, and no matter what, we must never give up hope and perhaps more importantly, we must never stop loving.

Life isn't always fair, or pretty. But when you are loved, deeply loved, that is pretty much all that is necessary and all that there needs to be.  I had another friend a few years ago who told me that in this lifetime there are many people who never experience the joy of being loved deeply. And when they are, for however brief a period of time, they have been blessed.  I had a hard time with that, for pain is pain, and grief is grief.  And the absense of something so beautiful, precious, and rare makes its absense so much more difficult to bear.  But you know the saying, "It is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all." 

"Beginning today, treat everyone you meet as if they were going to be dead by midnight.  Extend to them all the care, kindness and understanding you can muster, and do it with no thought of any reward.  Your life will never be the same again.
~Og Mandino

These two men taught me as Leo Buscaglia said, "Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around."

My friend that left this earth last week had had a series of strokes.  He was aphasic.  The words from his mouth were gibberish, but his smile, his eyes, his intense love of all golden retrievers and his undying love for his wife were his words and his legacy.  The last time I saw him he was in the hospital where Penny's From Heaven's therapy dog training classes are held.  He had been wheeled to the gym by his wife to observe the dogs in action.  There are few times, I must admit that I can be distracted, but this was one of them.  He and his wife sat holding hands and there could have been no doubt that this couple, married for decades, were as in love this day as they were on the day they married.  For them there was no one else and no where else. 

As they held hands it was clear that their hearts were, and will always remain, locked together.  I envied them at that moment and do still.  I'm sure he never knew what a gift his brief presence in my life meant.  I am a better person for having known him. 

"When you carry out acts of kindness you get a wonderful feeling inside.  It is as though something inside your body responds and says, yes, this is how I ought to feel."
~Harold Kushner

So today, this week, let go of the petty aggravations that we so often allow to consume us.  Remember that  time when you were loved and cherished and hold on tight to that memory.  For it is in that place and time that you found the meaning of life.

Kelsie's Friend 

Sunday, July 25, 2010


"Every moment of every day I have the chance to choose between cynicism and joy."
— Henri Nouwen

I would like to add to this the word 'sarcasm'.  We all have the ability to choose sarcasm or not.  It can wound and cut to the bone, almost intentionally.  Sarcasm is never pretty, nor is it necessary or invited.  Whatever needs to be said can most definitely be said without sarcasm. Sarcasm is the language of the discourteous and rude. Lawrence G. Lovasik says it best when he said, "A sarcastic person has a superiority complex that can be cured only by the honesty of humility."

A sarcastic person insists on the last word. It seems we suffer from too much bitter, intended sarcasm! It is a defense mechanism and it is pathetic.  It is a misuse of energy.

We and we alone are responsible for what we say.  We would like to think that sarasm is a deliberate statement with intent for humor. But you be the judge.  Most of the time it doesn't feel good and has been said maliciously, telling us exactly who the person is that felt this need to be sarcastic.

"Sarcasm is  the last refuge of modest and chaste-souled people when the privacy of their soul is coarsely and intrusively invaded."
~Fyodor Dostoevski 1821-1881, Russian Novelist

The opposite of a small minded person resorting to sarcasm is the simple faithful act of giving.  This is love in action. Giving of oneself, giving of kindness, giving of responsibility and committment to your work, your job.

"Treat everyone with politeness, even those who are rude to you - not because they are nice, but because you are."
~Author Unknown


Tuesday, July 20, 2010


Sometimes we are stopped dead in our tracks.  Sometimes by three words.  Three words that diminish and yet solidify our passion.  Three words that inspire, motivate, and tackle whatever it is we might be doing.  Three words that, if you are any kind of person at all, force you to change direction in the blink of an eye.

In the midst of tackling piles of paperwork yesterday and making some sort of progress, I was joggled back into a dense reality by a phone call.  I didn't recognize the area code and there was no caller id.  But something told me to answer. 

As I picked up the phone and said hello, the male voice on the other end simply said, "I need help!  

I knew instantly who it was.  It was every soldier back from war with PTSD.  Every soldier taught to fight and kill and witness atrocities, so horrible that their every waking hour is haunted by the memory. Every soldier who will never be the same again.  Every soldier who ever served our country to keep the enemy at bay, every soldier who has given his life, perhaps not literally in all cases, but gave his life regardless. 

I took a deep breath and simply said, "Okay, how can I help?" He said "My name is SSGT C. I have two Purple Hearts, one Bronze Star, and one Silver Star.  I served in Iraq four and a half years.  I live in the woods in Pennsylvania out of fear." 

I listened.  There is no way he could have known it, but from his first words, I held his heart in my hand.

SSGT C has a dog that is his 'battle buddy.' A little dog that is his lifeline, his link to some sort of sanity, his 'best friend and the only thing he can trust.'  He can't sleep, he can't leave the woods and as he said, "No one has seen what I have seen."  His life is hell.  He called because he wants his dog to be able to journey back into the world with him.  He wants to go to a store in a town, to a movie, to dinner at a restaurant.  He doesn't want to live in fear with his adrenalin at its peak.  He doesn't want to look for the enemy around every corner and suspect everyone he meets is out to kill him.  He is not alone.

Without his dog he has greater anxiety.  He expects to be hit as in combat without his little dog.  His pup restores a sense of calm. You see SSGT C lost a lung, his legs are 'pinned' together, his face and torso severely burned and he has a TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury).  He has Stage Three dimentia.  He did this for you and me. For our freedom.  For our country.  For our children and grandchildren.  He has severe short term memory loss. 

And as if this isn't enough, he has slipped through the cracks somehow and has been denied insurance.  The insurance we so willingly provide to illegals.  (I shall spare you the burden of listening to me regarding this.)  He was forced to wear a 'sandwich board' telling the world he served his country and has been severely injured and has no health insurance.

Okay I ask you how could anyone continue their day after this phone call.  I have his photograph on my desk and will not post it.  In it is a strong, determined soldier, with a uniform laden with ribbons and medals from four years in the Infantry.  He told me he has all the financial help needed now, but that all he wants in the entire world is his dog to be certified as a service dog so that he can go out into public and resume some sort of normal life.

Here is a guy who gave his all.  He will never be the same.  He faces demons every second of every day.  He sees bodies hanging in trees, in pieces on the street, he sees hell.  And all he wants is his 'battle buddy' by his side.

"PTSD is occurring now at an alarming rate in Iraq and Afghanistan and the military can no longer sweep it under the rug by calling it battle field stress or cowardice. When have you seen a story about our wounded vets returning with severe cases of PTSD? Iraq and Afghanistan for mental disorders. More US military members have been slain by their own hand than by combatants in Iraq and Afghanistan. Marine Sergeant who opened fire on and killed an Iraqi civilian woman who was reaching onto her bag for a white flag as she approached their checkpoint."

Returning emotionally crippled, many of our soldiers and Marines face a future of fear, isolation, anger issues, and a very, very dark place where there is little hope.  Many return home to commit suicide or murder.  The last thing these men and women need is to be home to a place where there is no hope offered.

Perhaps there is no tidy ending to this story.  Perhaps the ending is waiting to be written. Perhaps we are all still waiting to have the ending tied up with a nice pretty bow.  But that is not happening.  There needs to be and always is hope.  But for now there is no nice pretty bow.

So I answer the phone.  I do what I can.  I offer hope.

Monday, July 19, 2010


A friend on 'facebook' this morning had written that it was Sunday, he blinked and the weekend was over. I understand! 

There is a pile of paper at the top of my stairs and has been there for five days, waiting quietly to just be carried downstairs to be filed away.  There are light bulbs in a package to put into the light fixture hanging from the second floor over the front porch, waiting patiently to be changed out for a week.  There is a sprinkler head in the yard that is broken spraying water into the street.  Yes, you guessed it, waiting.  There are vitamins in a little wooden dish in the kitchen waiting to be taken - four days ago.  And my desk, well that is another matter!  Piles and piles of stuff unaccomplished.  Piles growing deeper, with seemingly less being accomplished. 

A friend suggested 'I stop talking and start doing.'  I wanted to hit him.  Sometimes we go as fast as we can.  We cram as much as we can into 24 hours and it still isn't enough.  We prioritize and get to the point where perhaps we need to write on our calendar that there are 15 minutes on Monday morning when we can fit in a headache. But you know what?  Sometimes we even run out of time to do that.

How much in tune are we with our daily lives?  How do we protect our internal energy? What is most important to us?  Changing a light bulb, cleaning up a desk, or being present for those who we love and who need us?  What is our place in all of this? How do we juggle all of these balls that sometimes, seemingly, take the joy away?  What do we do then? 

Introspection leads to yet more things unaccomplished.  How many people do we allow to take away our time, our energy?  Perhaps this introspection, that yes, can lead to important changes and insight, can also keep us from getting on with the business of living.  Our thoughts, our energies, what we focus on all have energy consequences...good or bad.

Should we become forever sidetracked by challenging occurences and give away our inner silence, our peace?  That place inside that forever seems to clutter up our thinking.  It is the details of life that suffocate our days. Somehow the important things go unnoticed.  Unnoticed until you are buried in them.

We take care of others and that must be done, but at what cost to ourselves? Where are our moments of peace?

Yesterday I cancelled many things to spend the morning at the ice rink to be one of only a handful of cheerleaders for our local Rampage sled hockey team, where amputees had a three day weekend of intense training.  As I watched these military heroes, facing a team from Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington D.C. on the ice, I was glad I had left the responsibilities of the details of my life at home. Josh one of 'my' soldiers who lost both legs in Iraq, smiled and said "I saw you up there in the stands."  That was all I needed! 

Saturday I spent all day at a Yellow Ribbon Event in Austin at the Renaissance Hotel in the Arboretum for 400 deploying troops.  I met soldier after soldier who were humbled by something as basic to our existence as a dog.  SPC. Scott C. wrote, "My favorite part of attending Yellow Ribbon events is petting the dogs from Penny's From Heaven." 

Friday I spent the afternoon and early evening at the airport as 'medical escort' for SSGT Kim I. with her PTSD Support Dog from VetDogs in NY.  She had been there for 16 days training with this dog who is the first PTSD Support Dog in the state of Texas.  At 'baggage claim' we were met with five television crews!  Kim was exhausted but wanted to share the great news of how "Bosley" had already changed her life. And how the nightmares and flashbacks and sleepwalking and barracading herself in her closet and in clothes racks at the local superstore and being sent into horrible panic attacks by the sound of fireworks are over...or at least manageable with Bosley by her side.

There are some times and some things that  are more important.  There are always going to be details left undone, stuff that constantly and repetitively nags at us, but in the long run what really matters is that we are true to ourselves and true to those people that love us and need us. 

Okay so today I have to schedule a headache and attack the piles and piles of important stuff on my desk.  Will the laundry get folded?  Will the dishwasher get emptied?  Will the sprinkler head get fixed?  I doubt it.  But you know what that is okay, for in the long run I know where I am needed and what I am supposed to be doing and exactly why I am here.  So I will walk over the pile of paper and look at the insistently nagging lightbulbs and face the day with whatever I can give it and with whatever I can give back.  And I thank God for my life and for allowing me to be the me I am supposed to be...messes and all!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Have you ever wanted to turn up the silence?  Have you found the world spinning too fast, too out of control, yet too slow at the same time?  Have you ever just wanted everything to stop and allow you to breathe?  But you are almost afraid what will happen to you if you are afforded this luxury.

This is such a time for me. People are hurting I can't help.  People are hurting I can help, but not enough. A couple of my best friend's souls are aching, and I have nothing to do but love them, be present for them always and say prayers for them and perhaps hold their hands.  They are all in horrible situations that can, and yet cannot be controlled.  Some in grueling relationships they can't exit for fear of change and some in situations beyond their control that they would give anything in the world to change.

Yesterday I received an email from a soldier deployed in Iraq.  In the email this soldier says, "I miss so much about home. I wish I had Dorothy's RED GLASS SLIPPERS to go home.  The wicked witch is always alive and well in Iraq.  People are poor, uneducated and I think this is definitely the UGLIEST country I have ever seen.  To be in this third world country gives me a far better appreciation for everything in America.  We are the land of blessings.  We are a WEALTHY nation in so many ways."

I lived in Korea for two years in the seventies!  I will never be the same for having had this opportunity.  How has that experience changed me? Not being allowed to leave our apartment in Seoul with armed machine gun Korean soldiers outside our door is a clue. 

I have learned that we all have choices here in America.  We can all pretty much do what we set our minds to.  If we set our minds to be in dead marriages then that is our choice. If we feel we have to control others with threats or money to keep them with us then that is our choice.  If we choose to leave the comforts of this amazing country to go fight for its freedom in Iraq or Afghanistan that too is a choice.  If we realize that life is extraordinarily short and this isn't a dress rehearsal and choose to take a risk that will lead us in a totally new direction, and a direction that allows us to experience the joy of this hard won freedom and love and peace, that is the greatest blessing and choice of all.  That is why our men and women are serving this country, so that we can make these choices. Even choosing to not make a choice is a choice. 

We are all on this earth to experience joy and if what you are doing isn't blessing you with joy then perhaps there are other avenues to consider pursuing.  How sad to be stuck.  How sad to be downtrodden.  How sad to be manipulated and held back from your one life, whatever the reason, by someone or something that controls you to the point you have no choices left.  For these people this morning I am sad.

Because of this sadness I want to turn up the silence.  Their pain reverberates in my head.  Their lack of self esteem, confidence and control is deafening.  I want to help, but the 'ties that bind' them in a state of  immobilization is paralyzing.  People have to come to their own decisions by themselves.  They must get to the point where they realize what and who is pulling the puppet strings and killing them slowly, and ultimately who is responsible for their blindness.  In the meantime the rest of us stand and wait. 

"They also serve who only stand and wait."
~John Milton

We all have a place in this world and we all perform a function, regardless of our ability or disability.  And sometimes we have to let go and say goodbye.  Sometimes our help isn't wanted or needed.  Sometimes our concern is ignored.  Then we learn another lesson.  We can love them, but we can't help them. And we have to let go.

Perhaps this is when the volume of the silence is turned up and we accept those things we can't change and love those people we love and quiet the noise of those we can't.

Monday, July 12, 2010


Today I want to share a blog from Gina Hill.  She is a friend.  She is possibly the strongest woman I have ever known!  She is my hero.  She is who I think about when things get rough and muddy and messy and seemingly intolerable. Perhaps you will rethink the "insurmountable" issues in your life and think of Gina and what she faces each and every moment of each and every day. Perhaps you will come to understand what these veterans have suffered and what their families endure and how their children's lives are impacted by a single blast from an IED and the life altering and lifelong effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  This is long I realize, but you will never be the same after reading it! Take your time, swallow, digest and absorb and most of all honor this family and what it represents to us all.  The price of freedom.

Please keep this family in your prayers!

"Previously I have tried to always write and post in the order things have happened. So, I am always behind and trying to catch up with our life. Then I get discouraged and decide not to write and then I have large gaps in time and get further and further behind. Therefore, I am going to start to write whatever hits me!!

Last week we had the privilege of attending the Army Wounded Warrior Symposium. We were asked to serve on the media panel and I had to write and give a speech for the media. It was a great experience for me and is awesome to be able to share my side of our story. Below is a copy of what I said.

I am Gina Hill and I am the wife of a severely injured soldier. While the majority of his physical, or visible, wounds have healed, our family still struggles daily with the psychological wounds. Often times, these are called the invisible wounds, but I have a hard time calling them that, for they are very visible to anyone who spends any amount of time with him.

These psychological wounds greatly affect not only the soldier, but the entire family. My husband’s triggers are now triggers for myself as well as our children. In the rare times we are away from my husband, we are constantly on high alert for his triggers. It is next to impossible for us to turn that off. Our kids have had to become caregiver’s for their dad instead of just being kids. They are well rehearsed in PTSD, calling 911, and explaining why their dad has a service dog, why he isn’t at many of their events, and why he sometimes acts really weird. They also have to understand that plans are NEVER set in stone and are always contingent on their dad’s current mental state. Even things they have their heart set on, sometimes doesn’t happen when they expect or want it to. Any friends they want to have over to our house also have to know the deal with their dad and that sometimes things quickly get very chaotic at our house. They never really know what to expect next and have to be very flexible with their needs and desires. These aren’t things most kids have to worry about. But, our kids are resilient and handle it very well. I just wish that they received more recognition for the sacrifices they have made and continue to make everyday.

Although I used to teach full time, I now am a full time caregiver for my husband. One of our biggest fears is that my soldier will not be considered “injured” enough to qualify for the benefits of the newly passed “caregiver’s bill.” While my husband is physically capable of dressing, transferring, toileting, and bathing independently, he still requires supervision and reminders to perform these daily tasks. Without these reminders and assistance, most of these tasks are left undone. Due to the severity of his dissociations, my husband is unable to drive or to be left alone. Even within our own home there are many external, environmental triggers that can send him running to the middle of the street completely unresponsive to anything outside of his head, or ducked in a corner taking cover for hours. Many, many of these instances have ended with me having to call 911 for assistance. Yet, he is not injured severely enough to qualify for much of the assistance available to the more physically injured warriors. We do not qualify for housing assistance that would allow us to move away from the rock quarry a mile from our house that blasts everyday and makes him think there are incoming mortars or the railroad tracks 100 meters from our house that cause a lot of loud noise and vibrations that he interprets as some type of danger. We also do not qualify for any type of respite care that would allow me to leave the house for errands or a job. All of these things we get denied for because they can’t see his wounds and this just fuels his PTSD and the depression and self harm feelings that go along with it.

Struggles I face specifically as a spouse of a warrior suffering with PTSD are many as well. It is difficult watching the person you love fighting to get back to the person they were before war because they do remember what they used to be like, they just can’t figure out how to get back to that person. We have worked very hard to focus on the best he can be now, not who he was. Every part of him is different and when I say every, I mean every. With that being said, it is extremely difficult being married to someone who is completely different than when you married him. There are times that I see glimpses of the man I married, but they are few and far between. I’m not sure whether these glimpses are a blessing or a curse! As a spouse, we have to make a choice as to whether we are going to learn to love them with their PTSD/TBI or whether we can handle that task. Some of us just aren’t able to handle that, but I am absolutely thankful that I am one that can. Our worries are great and can be as simple as dealing with going out in public as a family in any situation. Just going to a restaurant or the grocery store can turn into a huge ordeal. We have to be constantly prepared for anything and be able to stay calm and handle the situation for our spouse, our family, and many times the public. It is not an easy road.

While we do have many day to day struggles, we have had plenty of blessings along this journey as well. One of these came to us from an organization called Puppies Behind Bars. They provided Allen with a service dog specifically trained to help him manage his PTSD and TBI. There are many tasks she assists him with, but one of the biggest is her ability to bring him back from his dissociations. What used to end in a call to 911 now ends with him coming back to reality with her kissing his face. She has given all of us much more confidence to go out in public and be more active in life. She is a comfort to all of us because we know she has his back! Another blessing Allen has received is Emma, his electronic medication management assistant, he calls his pill ATM. This system alerts him when it is time to take his medications, all 16 of them! It then dispenses the medications he needs at that time and communicates with the monitoring company In Range that tracks his refills, inventory, and his compliance with taking his meds. Emma has made him more capable of managing his medications without as much of my assistance which helps him feel a little more in control of his own life. Currently this system is only available for active duty service members, but In Range is working diligently to get it approved through the VA.

Through all of this, our AW2 rep has been there for us. Not only does he support us, he gives us lots of information or advocates for us when the need arises. If he hasn’t heard from us for a while, he is always sure to check in and if we ever need him, he is just a phone call away. That is very comforting for us, knowing that we have that support and assistance available at all times.

Lastly, participating in the AW2 Symposium is very important to us for many reasons. It helps us heal by sharing our story, as well as giving us the sense of helping make this road better for other families facing similar situations. Allen and I both feel that if we don’t share our own story we can’t expect for things to get fixed that we have struggled with throughout this journey. We hope that by sharing our personal struggles and accomplishments, we will shed some light on things that need fixed and share the blessings we have received that others may not know about. It is our honor to be a part of the symposium."


Sunday, July 11, 2010


Tell me about a moment of joy in your life.  When is the last time you laughed so hard your sides hurt?  When was the last time you dared to lose control and let joy take you by the hand and lead you to renew your heart?

Sometimes these illustrious, ecstatic moments of joy come when we least expect them, in the middle of an ordinary day or maybe in an extraordinary experience.  Each of us find these moments of joy and unexpected exuberance in different places and times. We find them in celebrations and gatherings, of course.  But what if we were to stop expecting the big moments of joy and learn to experience daily unexpected moments of joy?  Dancing in the living room after dinner with a special person, setting the dinner table with your best china for no reason, telling a waitress, who is less than exemplary, that she is doing fine when she is fumbling to do her best. Joy can be found in a myriad of places like sipping coffee in the country looking up at the stars and moon just before the sun rises.  Spread it, share it, bathe in it, jump into the middle of it, and shout it from the roof tops. It is contagious, and it is addictive!

I am actively working on this! I am not always successful, but I too am a work in progress.   Today I had one of several moments of joy when I went to the mail box and found a handwritten letter from my adopted sister and dear friend deployed to Iraq.  A handwritten letter!  The envelope says ARMY STRONG and displays silhouettes of soldiers holding their weapons.  Just to see her handwriting on paper made me feel closer to her.  This was a moment of joy. 

Moments later I logged on to begin drafting this entry and found a comment posted from a soldier that I love dearly.  Her comment is below under "How Do We Know If We Make a Difference."  Reading this was another moment of joy. 

The third was in an email from the volunteer coordinator at Lackland AFB Fisher House, giving us future dates when we are needed with our therapy dogs.  There seems to be a special airman there that needs some unconditional and non-judgmental pet therapy.  Nothing more was said.  I accepted.  I found joy in this because what we are doing, what our dogs bring to those in critical need, is extraordinary. It is working and I find this enormously rewarding.

Joy is opening up your heart and your eyes and seeing in color.  Suddenly, when you least expect it life is alive and you are awake.  And you are experiencing joy.

Real joy is a choice. Oriah Mountain Dreamer says in The Mountain, "Joy finds us when we feel the elation that comes when we know that we belong - to another, to ourselves, to the world, to the mystery that is larger than ourselves." 

Sometimes it is most difficult to find joy in the difficult times of life.  Perhaps this is because we don't know how.  And for some, joy scares us more than pain.  Some are more accustomed to pain. It feels more comfortable.  We become so used to disappointments that we come to anticipate failure and lack of joy. 

Oriah says, "The enemy of joy is the litany of "not good enough" that picks at what is or might be, finding the imperfections, real or imagined."  Perfectionism can tear at what is imperfect but whole, until the whole is in pieces.  Many run toward disappointment in an effort to avoid the pain of being sideswiped by an unanticipated letdown.  It is just one more way of being in control.

To feel joy we have to trust.  We have to trust the moment with open arms, as we acknowledge that we are not in control and accept it. And we have to feel worthy of having joy in our life!

We need to learn to expect joy and in so doing our souls will flourish. 

For me, finding what I was made for in that place inside me and finding that place where I belong is joy.


"The most significant gifts are often the ones most easily overlooked.  Small, everyday blessings, woods, health, music, laughter, memories, books, family, friends, second chances, warm fireplaces and all the footprints scattered thought our days."
~Sue Monk Kidd

Friday, July 9, 2010


"A loving person lives in a loving world...everyone you meet is your mirror."
~Ken Keyes, Jr.

Perhaps it isn't how much time you spend on something, but how much of it is infused with your spirit.  Where we are, and what we do, and the lives we touch are our autobiographies. 

My autobiography is with 'my' soldiers and the people I truly hold, and have held, closest in my heart.  Where is yours?

Sometimes and most times, our autobiographies are full of the ouches in life.

I have a friend who recently received a lengthy text message from his son.  Without going into details, it was horrific and ugly.  It was hurtful and meant to be so.  It was unwarranted and hateful.  What would you do in this situation?  My friend chose to write him back and tell him he was sorry he felt that way and signed it "Love, Dad."  This was infused with spirit.  It was also infused with a necessary kind of  letting go.

There are times when that is all we can do.  Let go.  It can be our undoing or our salvation.  We have the ability to accept it, let go, and choose how we accept it.  We can serve as an example, or we can buckle.  We strive to do the best we can, but when we are sabotaged at every crossing, and especially by an adult child, we are left with few choices but to let go. 

Our children, for the most part, are born out of love.  We can choose to create our children in our image or guide them toward growing into someone they are not.  However, there are biological limits as to how we can mold our children in either case. 

We all have expectations for our children that aren't fulfilled.  But we do have a choice as to how we accept this.  Being condemned by your own child is extraordinarily hurtful and unjusifiable whatever the reason. There is nothing cleansing or therapeutic to this parent bashing.  There comes a time when we no longer have the obligation to honor them.  We can love them, but they have violated the privilege of being honored and respected.

When a child puts his or her parents down it diminishes the child. Where is the child's sense of self-pride?  According to Alexandra Stoddard, "Anger toward a mother or a father, no matter how excusable, ultimately becomes an expression of self-loathing.  Anger is temporary insanity; until we choose to let go of it, we'll never be free to build a different, less troubled life."

We have all known, as Stoddard says, "parents who give their all to their children, only to suffer the disappointment of having raised ungrateful, unproductive parasites." Children who are self-indulgent, and ungrateful and "entitled" expect everything to be done for them. They party, they play, they spend endless hours texting with an ipod in their ears, they sleep late, they have no job (nor are they looking), they are angry because the money isn't coming into their lives fast enough, they are given an expensive new car and demand money for a trip to Europe.  What happens when the child graduates college and dad has stopped paying the frivolous bills to a child that requested a 'salary' for going to college!?

A child's misery isn't always the parents' fault.  No family is perfect. The passages are rough and often grim and painful, involving hardships and hurdles. 

Conversely, another friend wrote me about his son who  made a decision to spend his entire summer in Honduras on a working missionary trip with his college friends - giving back!.  His dad emailed me today with photographs of his son in Honduras and wrote, "I have been growing all summer from looking at the place where C. is physically and mentally and seeing pictures of the work that is going on there and the joy that is being shared there-- and it doesn't come from ipods, fancy cars, endless texting and lots of money."  Now this young man is infused with spirit. And his dad is extraordinarily proud.

Two fine fathers - two different outcomes.  They both have demonstrated unqualified love to their sons. For the first eighteen years parents instill values in their children that will help them cope with life.  After that and the child is free, that responsibility is over.  Parents should find that their children will grow up to feel the same sense of responsibility, obligation, respect, and commitment for their parents that their parents had for them the first eighteen years.  Some parents become dependent on caring for and nurturing their children long after it is appropriate.  As Stoddard continues, "There could be many reasons to cling too tightly: a parent is divorced, widowed, or locked in an empty marriage." Lives change and families change.  It can be a beautiful testament to possibility when lives change for the better.  Another lesson for our children.

Sometimes, for some parents, it is hard to accept our children for who they are and to realize that ultimately we must let go.  What is your autobiography?

Life goes on - choose how!!!

"Only when we no longer have a great need for the nurturing support of our parents will we be able to choose to love them as individuals in their own right." 
~Aaron Stern

Thursday, July 8, 2010


How do we know if we have made a difference?  How do we know if our efforts matter? 

Or do we need to know? Is it necessary to know?

I feel I am on the right path and have made a difference when I feed the wounded warriors at the Warrior Family Support Center at Brooke Army Medical Center each and every Saturday and each and every time Kelsie and I step headfirst into someone's life that is full of pain and frenzy.  I know I make a difference when I have multiple other things to do and drop everything to help a friend in need.  I know I make a difference when I put my head on the pillow at night and feel grateful and blessed that I have been able to change a life that day, just a little, for just a little while.

In short I make an effort each and every day to make the world just a  bit better than it is.  It is my sense that if I help someone, they help someone.  And that help feeds upon itself and compassion then ushers in more compassion and love ushers in more love.  Paying it forward!  Spreading grace each and every day in some way.

In the face of catastrophic events, or even moments, I pause and wonder.  I wonder about the meaning of these events in our lives. I wonder about my place in it all. 

I look at my Penny's From Heaven Foundation. It is something I believe in and something to which I have given my life and energy. By training other teams of therapy dogs and owners to go out into the world and make it a better place, I am able to again pay it forward.  For this I am grateful and proud.

But in the midst of the good done there is always chaos, broken promises, exhaustion, frustration, and change.  This leads me to a place of insight and significant change.  Socrates said that "the unexamined life is not worth living."  I believe that to be true. But for today this introspection is too much for me.  It is keeping me from getting on with the business of living. 

I opened an email just a while ago and found a letter from a soldier - a soldier that is nourished by my omelets and a friend's hashbrowns each Saturday morning at the WFSC.  He is always full of smiles and deep appreciation for this simple act of kindness.  This depth of gratitude for something so basic is often overwhelming.  Conversely, I see other young men and women this soldier's age, given a college education by their parents, sleeping late, no job, no desire to enter the reality of this world in any way, partying nightly, expecting the world and its benefits to be dropped into their laps without a word of thanks.  Then I see America's soldiers, the same age, simply grateful to be alive, after not knowing if they would live to see another day, witnessing unspeakable atrocities while fighting and willing to die for a country they love. 

The letter from 'my' soldier is personal and I feel uncomfortable sharing his words meant just for me.  But the last line you need to hear.  "You are my angel! I am not as alone as I have felt with your sincere hugs! I have been at some pretty deep low points and your hugs and acceptance have elevated me to a point you will never know!" 

As for you, you may never know what a difference you have made.  But trust me when I say, you will make a difference.  For this soldier to sit down and write me, there were dozens and dozens who perhaps feel the same and don't ever verbalize it.  But does it matter?  Does it really matter that you know?  The point is you made the effort and you know you made a difference.  What does matter is that you tried, you hugged someone, you changed a life in some place at some time.  It is easy.  Just let your heart shine. Let your light shine.

Do you remember seeing the greeting card with a little girl sitting on a stool, her back to the camera, with her arm around a seated elephant?  I feel this way some times.  The need is so great with our soldiers and their pain.  I simply can't get my arms around all of them to hug.  There are simply too many.

But what I can do is put my arms around one and hold on tight.  For in holding on tight you will make a difference.  You will show someone, you perhaps will never see again, that for that moment, in that place, they were loved and cared for.  What they sacrificed meant something. 

As for the unappreciative youth of today, I say they are not worth my time.  They just might be better off  staying out of my way.  There is work to be done and they are not worth my time.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


Have you ever experienced the fire inside?  What a feeling it is!  This is a freedom of sorts.  A freedom our soldiers are fighting for each and every minute of each and every day. It was fueled yesterday morning by a soldier sending me a text that simply said, "I miss you."  Does it get any better?

For me the fire is an excitement for living.  A yearning for what the day will bring.  The early morning joy in the face of your dog, as paws on the bed are followed by a sincere wagging tail.  Clean crisp sheets after a busy day.  A friend calling just to say they were thinking of you.  The nose of a horse, muzzling your neck.  Listening to the exuberance of sixties music.  Sipping coffee on a porch at dawn, observing the world as it awakens.  Watching light ash-colored clouds on the horizon with the azure blue sky and sun peaking through. Someone whispering I love you at the time you need to hear it the most. German Chocolate Cake ice cream. A baby's contagious smile.

None of us know what is on the horizon or how to look to the other side.  But what we do know is that this is it.  This life is what we have right now.  As they say this isn't a dress rehearsal. This is exactly the time to have the fire inside. What turns me upside down are those who do not! How sad and bitter they must be. 

This past week I had someone try and pull the rug out from under me, slandering me to people she barely knows. It started me thinking, that there are most likely none of us that hasn't had mud slung at us at one time or another.  Some people find great superficial reward in hurting others. When in reality all they are doing is showing us who they really are. Shame on them.  They must have woefully low self esteem.  Slander isn't pretty. Nor is the person devoting his/her life to it.  As Robert Frost said, "A person will sometimes devote all of his life to the development of one part of his body - the wishbone."  If some people's wishes don't come true, they tend to blame everyone but themselves for the dilemma in which they find themselves.

Becoming completely consumed with hurting another person is a sordid vocation.  When ideals and solitary dreams die, perhaps they should best look to themselves for the reasons.  These people are not thriving.  They are not living.  No one is taking them seriously.  And they certainly are not leading by example to their children or their family or friends.  How ultimately pathetic they must be. They are desparately seeking grace, but none is forthcoming because it is an infinitely worthless activity.  These people don't get it.  They are merely existing.  I invite them to experience compassion, experience life, wake up, it isn't all about them.  To exisit with compassion, with integrity, with empathy, with joy of living instead of simply getting even is what it is all about. 

I watch my soldier friends and their families.  They all stick together, they belong to each other, help each other and they 'have each others backs.' They don't get bent out of shape at the little things.  They have seen and experienced 'hell,' and as one soldier told me, "The little stuff is nothing."  You see they 'get it.'  They know what is important and what isn't and what has meaning and what doesn't and they know how important life is and how fleeting it can be.

Recently, I have become unraveled when the sharp arrows of life have rained down on a friend.  These arrows have interrupted my life on more than one occasion.  Times when I have wanted to crawl into a hole -and have.  And times when I have wanted to find some deserted island and start over - and  haven't.  I know what it feels like.  I want to help and am not sure how.  It is utimately frustrating.

So for today, I celebrate our country and our military who allow me to celebrate my individuality, my strength, my courage, my integrity and my righteousness and let the 'ugly' people of the world deal with their own lives. 

They will not be allowed to put out my internal fire.  They will not be allowed to waste my time!

"While it is important to win, it's even more important to remain undefeated no matter what happens."
~Marie Wheeler-Nicholson