Monday, December 23, 2013

ENOUGH IS A FEAST!

This seems highly appropriate this time of year!  Just before Christmas.
 
"Most of us tend to bite off much more than we can chew in life. And because we cannot chew what we have bitten off, we tend to take life in lumps and have difficulty digesting it at all.  Too many of us take on too much.  We are overly ambitious, overly acquisitive, overly possessive.  We are much better off to take just a little of anything at a time, taste if fully, and suck all the sweetness from it. "Enough is a feast."
 
W. Phillip Keller
Taming Tension
 
 
 
 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A PLACE OUTSIDE OF GRIEF

What do you do when your world is suddenly turned upside down and interrupted just when you least expect it?  What do you do?  What do you say?  What is there that can pull you out of the pit you have been forced into?

It is a week before Christmas and my world had turned topsy turvy.  What happened and why is private, but suffice it to say it crushed me in a most disturbing way.  I went to bed and stayed there for 24 hours and felt a grief and pain that I felt would never go away. I was immobile. My dearest friends were there for me.  They talked to me for hours on the phone and assured me that I was safe, and that they were there for me no matter what.  My PTSD kicked in big time.  Nothing else mattered in that time and place.  Text messages came in droves and words of love and understanding flooded my phone. 
 
Everything I thought I was and comprised of suddenly crumbled.  I felt helpless and abused. I felt my purpose on this earth had been demolished.
 
But with time, a little medicine and friends, I crept out of my cave and took control of the situation and suddenly, and most surpriseinly recovered myself yesterday, as I met a severely wounded warrior and realized that my issues were nothing.  He smiled a smile that melted me. He hugged me with a heartfelt hug, one I think I needed more than he. 

In combat, his eyes were blown out, a portion of his skull removed from a TBI, he lost a leg, was severely burned and he lost use of both hands and yet he smiled and joked and laughed.
 
I felt like a fool.  What happened to me wasn't any less real, but it suddenly didn't matter any more.
All fell into place.  Perspective rushed in beside me, sat down and comforted me in a most beautiful way. 

Thank you my friend for washing away the sorrow and self doubt that surrounded me and letting me know how truly blessed I am to have been hugged back to reality.  God bless you Joel!  You are a true gift to this world.

 

Friday, December 6, 2013

OFTEN TIMES ANSWERS AND HEALING CAN BE FOUND IN THE EYES OF A DOG!

The eyes tell the story. Look deeply into the eyes of your dog.  What do you see?  What do they reflect back to you? Are they telling you a story, or perhaps even which way to go? What to do next or which road to travel. Are they telling you to forget and push the past aside and live for this one moment, the only moment we are guaranteed.

Upon close observation and reflection back to the dogs of my life I have determined that they reflect back to us that which we need to become closely aware of. 
 
I have always been goal oriented.  I have been forced by family and others in my life that to be of any value or worth in this world you have to accomplish something monumental each and every day....something of importance, something tangible and worthy of greatness. No excuses.  Just do it! If you don't, then you are not worthy.
 
I remember in my long ago married life, having to prove myself at each and every turn.  It was the way I grew up.  I knew no other way. I had to be important to make him important. Looking back after a 20 year career on television, I was never really doing what I like to say made my heart sing. I did it because it was what was expected of me.  It was what added worth, value and importance to another, not to me.
It has been a hard characteristic or inbred personality trait to get rid of.  It was built in me from day one.  But slowly I realized that there was much more to life than simply pleasing another for their benefit.  It was time for a change.  Sure I had ups and downs and made mistakes along the way, but for all the speed bumps encountered I believe I have found the ability to at last say 'no'.  No this is not in my best interest.  No you will not treat me like this. No there is no emergency on my part because of your lack of poor planning.  No I will not be taken advantage of anymore. No I will not be yelled at or treated this way anymore.
 
A new energy has opened up inside of me.  I can now open up and share exactly what I am feeling or thinking without fear of abandonment or retribution.  What used to work for me no longer does.
 
I have been insurmountably more sensitive  and  open than I have ever been.  I feel and sense pain in others that I was previously never aware of or concerned with.  It is different and at times uncomfortable, but for the most part taking in the positive energy of a person or situation is allowing me to feel more intense, more alive than ever before. I have found this is where I need to be...where I feel most at home. Negative energy now terrifies me.
 
Many things that once worked for me, no longer do.  The old way is falling away.  And I am keenly aware of the inner guidance, as my heart leads me to someplace new.
 
Yes, storms come and there is lightening and rain, and I find myself frightened and yet delighted at the new me.  Peace is now a place I welcome.  Joy and meaning are tip toeing into my life as I am discovering the person that has been in there all the time, but never allowed to come out and play. 
 
I yearn desperately for joy and laughter and the absence of stress and anxiety.  It is a slow journey.  Here is where dogs come in. 
Dogs have been the one constant in my life!  For as long as I can remember they have dwelled in my heart and home.  Strongly disapproved of by my mother and former husband, I was only able to find comfort in their presence.  With them I didn't have to pretend.  I could be me.  I could be real. Watching them quite simply stimulates me and centers me.  They teach me daily that I don't have to worry and fuss about 'stuff'. They have quite simply taught me what it is like to tip toe into that place called the present moment!!!
 
I find, as I watch people close to me racing and hurrying, it serves no purpose but to make them tense and stressed.  They seldom take time to breathe much less enjoy the journey.  What happened yesterday or tomorrow never enters the mind of a dog.  Only the present moment is important.  The cell phone has become an addiction.  It obliterates all else around people. It has become their lives.  Sure you can reach out and touch someone.  But what about reaching out and enjoying the moment and the person you are with.  It is then and in that place that the real magic begins!!! Sitting with your dog on a warm day on a hillside or your living room sofa is all that is necessary.  It is a place of peace and tranquility.   With my dogs by my side I have been able to go deeper into my journey and deeper into my joy and subsequently deeper into my heart, mending and healing all the broken places.

And for our warriors and those struggling with the aftermath of war, going deeper and once again finding your happiness will at first lead you deeper into your pain, your grief and losses.  But don't be afraid.  This doesn't meant you will live forever in this grief and loss.  It takes time to heal and mend the broken places and put them in perspective. In many cases you have to bury these cracked places and dreams, as you release the hurt.  But in so doing you will go deeper inside and help yourself heal. With a dog by your side you can slowly find that, with love, you have, almost without knowing, healed places you never thought you could.  You will find a freedom to once again join this earth. 
 
With a dog by your side, as you look into his/her eyes, you will find the real magic is about to begin.
 
 
 
 
 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

NOTHING IS MUNDANE

"I think one of the things I love most about photography is that it often elevates the mundane. When you stop a moment, and preserve it forever, and take the care to frame it, light it, and chose one moment over another, you effectively tell the world – or anyone who cares enough to look at your work; Look at this! And if, even in these mundane moments of life, we find something worth looking at, worth showing the world, then we’re effectively saying,
Nothing is mundane." ~ David du Chemin
 
I have a facebook friend.  A young lady who has PTSD.  She struggles, copes, cries, hides, creeps out of isolation and tries again.  She loves rocks, polished stones, and shells found on a beach. These bring her peace.  She shared with me about a stone that resides in her pocket everyday to reach for in times of anxiety, fear or stress.
 
I too have always loved stones and shells and never really given it much thought.  The only tangible  thing remaining in my life to remind me of my father is a rock.  A malachite rock that rested on his desk in his law practice.  I was left nothing else but that rock and memories. 

Yesterday I posted on facebook small photographs of things that are on my desk.  Things that bring me joy, peace, serenity, and things that center me.  As people wrote back it was abundantly clear that there was nothing celebratory on their desks but dust and paperwork. Nothing that brings them clarity, joy and peace.

On my desk one of my favorite things is a rock.  I hold onto this rock while on the phone.  It is cool to the touch and warms slightly as I continue to hold it.  Its oval shape fits perfectly in the palm of my hand.  I often cradle it in both hands and feel the coolness and the strength it offers, as I try to make a decision or find the right words.  Some how it centers me and reminds me no matter what, I too am a part of this earth, just as  surely as the rock is.
 
I love this quote. "Stones have the oldest knowledge.  They spend a lot of time looking up at the sky.  We should not take the stones that are still partly in the ground because that means they haven't decided to come into our world yet.  Choose a stone that speaks to you and show it respect."  ~Author Unknown 

I suspect some of you might find this a bit bizarre.  But having things I love and cherish on my desk brings light into an often all too tedious and benign place. Everything is about connection. We are meant to explore the ways in which everything fits with everything else.
 
On my desk you will also find a white duck feather, a sand dollar, a bronze sculpture of a tiny dog, a deep purple amethyst rock, and two rocks from a church at the base of the millions of years Red Rocks in Sedona.  These too are memories, things that center me and sometimes often times pull me back from the edge. 
 

I also have a collection of crystal paper weights from various places I have loved.  They top piles of paper, as well as bills, to do lists, way past due to do lists, someday lists and wish lists. They are beautiful.  I love them. They pull me into them sometimes when I need a break from stress and the cruel reality of some days. As each pile is tackled and removed, the rocks and paperweights remain.  Ready to be present for their next assignment, whether pleasurable or lifesaving. 

This must say something about me.  What I am not certain.  But it bares exploration. 

What is on your desk?  What can you sit and glance over at and find peace?  What brings back a special time in your life that resides only inches from your computer? A miniature holiday you can take in your busy work day.

Maybe the reason for these 'personal' treasures on my desk is summed up by Piglet, "Pooh, whispered Piglet. "Yes, Piglet?" said Pooh.  "Oh, nothing."  sand Piglet.  "I just wanted to be sure of you."

Perhaps this is all any of us want ~ to just be sure of something or someone. My desk treasures do just this.  They center me, make a mundane place less mundane and remind me of exactly who I am, what I represent and what I hope to mean to others. Nothing is mundane!  Absolutely nothing!






 

Saturday, November 30, 2013

JUST STAND THERE SHINING AND WATCH WHAT HAPPENS!


Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.”
~Annie Lamott

 
 
And so it is with us! Good people just stand there shining. People that need saving will find their way to us. 

Those with that need, without a doubt, will find their way to that shining light ~ which is you.

If, and only if, you have the light turned on!

 I remember quite clearly in high school my English teacher asking the class to write an essay on John Milton's famous quotation.

"They also serve who only stand and wait."
 
At that time I had no idea what to write or what it meant.  But today it is my mantra.  To me, I call it the gift of presence.  If you are open,   willing,  available, and present, and perhaps more importantly, if you are innately compassionate, loving, and caring, you will be of great help to those needing it the most.  You will be their lighthouse.

I have spent time sitting with military families who are in total and complete shock in the Burn Unit, with a critically injured son clinging to life. I just sat there with my light shining.  Soon a conversation was started and ultimately an outpouring of pent up emotions, tears, and fears. If I had not been there, and if I had not been 'open' to what might or could happen, it would have been a waste of time.  But my light was on. And they saw it!

I sat in a dark room with a grieving widow.  There was only a nightlight on in the room, as I entered with my little blind therapy dog, Gracie.  Gracie carried the light, as she placed her front paws on the lady's lap and this widow buried her face into Gracie's fur and sobbed.  No words were ever spoken, nor were they needed.

Some might call it being in the right place at the right time.  But I look at it a bit differently.  Either you have that 'light' or you don't.  Either you are open to whatever or whoever might be needing that light or you aren't.  I am not saying you are born with this tendency, but I am saying that you have to have a deep  awareness and compassion for others who walk this earth.  The pathway isn't always easy, clean, neat and tidy.  It is often quite the opposite.  But to be that light for another just might make their life a little brighter, as well as your own. 

Maybe this is the missing link in relationships, in life.  To be present, to be a shining light for others setting yourself aside. Perhaps many are too self absorbed, or busy, to take notice of the pain that others are experiencing.  

I make friends with wounded warriors with PTSD/TBI in person or on facebook.  I guarantee you that they often share  more with me than they do with their therapists or families.  I have close and loving relationships with women in my own life and on facebook who have experienced horrific physical assaults and sexual trauma.  How can they see my light you might ask.  They see it in my words, in my heart, with 100% of my attention on them. They feel it in their souls that I am as comfortable as a warm cozy flannel bathrobe.  But most of all they sense trust and a true caring and understanding.  They know without a doubt that I can be trusted with whatever they tell me.  With me and my light, they are allowed the gift of being able to open up.  And it is in that opening up that healing can ignite and life just might begin again.

Part of this experience requires listening.  Just being quiet and listening.  Listening with your heart and understanding their pain at that moment.  Here is where John Milton comes in! "They also serve who only stand and wait." The gift of presence!

Think about who was there when you needed someone the most.  Was it a friend or perhaps even a complete stranger.  Nothing is a coincidence, I believe. We meet those people we are supposed to meet.  We are set in circumstances and situations where we are meant to be.  It is up to us to know when to turn the light on.  It is perhaps best to never turn that light off.

Saying this from experience...there is nothing quite so rewarding that one will ever do on this earth than to be present and to have our light shining and to hold a hand or hold someone tightly so that they don't fly off of this planet, consumed by the pain and grief they are experiencing.

As I am writing this, I hear strange noises coming from my bedroom closet. It seems my little blind Gracie found her way upstairs (which is seldom an occurrence) and got lost in the dark of my closet.  She couldn't find her way out.  My light was turned on as I went to her rescue.  She snuggled and nuzzled me in gratitude.  It is no different with anyone in peril. 

Today I invite you to experience the joy of just standing and having your light shining!  Watch the difference it will make in a single life, and if you are truly blessed there just might be a ripple effect you will never be aware of.

To those of you who have been my lighthouse during a storm...I love you and I am grateful you have been or are in my life.
 

 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

AN IMPORTANT MESSAGE FROM SNOOPY AND LINUS!!!

LINUS: You know what Snoopy?  I don't understand people.  No matter how hard I try, I just don't understand them!
SNOOPY: I know how he feels, I gave up trying to understand people long ago. Now I just let them try to understand me! ~ PEANUTS

*****

Maybe that is the way it should be.  Maybe people should make an effort to understand others and not be so self absorbed.  I remember, as a child, being told to 'put myself in someone else's shoes.' I understand those words all too well now, as my days are compacted with the pain of others.

It isn't easy being me. I am certain beyond a doubt that I am difficult to understand by some, maybe even many, and at the same time so easily understood by others.  Some walk away in indifference, caring not how I feel turning their back and leaving with a terse, "I hope you feel better," never caring enough to call later to see how I am.
A panic attack in a supermarket grabbed me out of no where.  Approaching the checkout stand, I knew I had to get out of there.  Fight or flight.  What prompted it I am not sure.  But leaving my cart and grabbing my keys, I raced to the car. Once there, I sat and focused on the sign on the window of a hair salon and breathed deeply and tried to 'center' myself, as I dug through my purse for medication.

What happened to caring, compassion, and just simply being present for another person who is struggling with a myriad of difficulties. Having someone there to hold you tightly and tell you that you are not about to fly off the earth would be helpful.  Or someone to tell me to slowly breathe in and out and that soon this will end. Just someone who cares and actually shows it. No, I do not understand people! It is now up to them to understand me.  Some one who sorrows, if I sorrow and echoes my joy when I am happy with a boundless trust, preferring my company to all others. Someone who would love to help me in anyway when I need them the most, rather than walking away, leaving me alone, as I have been my entire life.

 Digging through the baggage of a lifetime, almost quite literally, as I clean and purge a closet full of memories and shred most into a box to be picked up by the garbage men, I find a heart that should be full of good memories, almost suffocating in the abyss of papers of a person I no longer remember or recognize or no longer am.

We grow. We change. We weep, and we laugh.  Looking at family photographs of long ago I ponder how I got to where I am.  It isn't the life I had imagined, as a foolish little girl laying in my backyard on a warm summer night looking at the stars and wondering who I would marry and what my children would be like, nor is this the life I would have expected.

It is a cold and extraordinarily dreary day in South Texas.  This Sunday before Thanksgiving is full of memories, most I wish I could devour and discard. With help I am trying, learning, crying, and purging.  But what is next in this final phase of my life? What do I want? 

I want to laugh.  I want joy.  I want to be surrounded by  happy people who love me, for being me.  For being the kind of person I am.  A person who will stand by warriors with  PTSD/TBI and talk and walk them through a panic attack, a crisis, or a truck load of fear, no matter the time of day.  I would never turn my back on them and say "I hope you feel better."  It just doesn't work that way. 

I remember one day quite clearly when my precious little blind dog, Gracie, was not responding to my calling and calling her to come inside.  I must have had some where most important to be, or that was my perception.  I kept getting more angry and more angry that she wouldn't come in.  I gave up and started searching the yard.  Finally, I found her with her collar stuck in the wire handle of a heavy hanging basket that had rooted her to the ground. I felt so bad at yelling and getting mad when she couldn't do a thing to help herself but sit and wait to be found.

That is how I feel today.  I am sitting and waiting to be found. Cleaning and pitching and purging boxes and boxes of yesterdays.  There is a stillness and a sadness about this.  Shredding portions of my lifetime that will never matter to anyone else.  Events, photographs, days and dates important only at the time, are now going to the trash in shreds.

I am focusing on a new awakening and a life predicated on joy in the moment, and friends who bring me happiness on a silver platter or a Styrofoam box.  It matters not.  Smiles that uplift, smiles that wash away the panic and fear, and a hug that makes anxiety vanish into the darkness and surrounds me with a safety I have never felt. I will hold tightly onto my dogs, my anchors, as I cry into their soft fur and listen to their rhythmical breathing until I fall fast asleep. I will say thank you to them and to my dearest friends who have and will be with me for the rest of my days. For this I am thankful. 

It is difficult being grateful for a lifetime of accumulated sorrows, but I am grateful for who I am and that I now know, perhaps late in life but not too late, why I was put on this earth.  Easing the pain of others is what I do and do best.  Quid pro quo, if I am blessed. But if not so be it. Helping and holding up others as they face the hell of this thing called Post Traumatic Stress, I am good at.  I am good at being present and offering help and compassion and just holding a hand when it is needed the most.  I am good at being there for others when all others walk out. I bring hope.  But I am not so good at it when others walk out on me. As Snoopy said 'now it is their turn to understand me.'

Monday, November 18, 2013

A WARRIOR IS A DOG'S FLAG

Our warriors return from the battlefield one day, quite literally to McDonalds the next.  They remain in the survival mode they were trained for, not knowing if the next breath might be their last. Military training and stress reaction have one big thing in common ~ survival.    How could we expect it to be any different?  Nothing is the same and they are lost in a world unknown and unfamiliar to them. They have endured hell.  They have seen and done things no human should have to witness or do.  They did this because of their love of country and family.  They struggle and fight to return to a land and a life they once knew and  family and friends they hope will understand. 
 
But unless you have endured and witnessed what they have, there is no way to understand. And there is no way to return to the way it once was. They find all too quickly there is no silver lining and new beginnings seem distance and something they will never attain. They hang on by a thread.  They feel defeated. They face arousal symptoms, they are unable to relax.  Jumpiness, concentrating difficulties suggest heightened physiological and psychological activation. They face mental replays and mental nightmares replaying events they can't forget. They shut off their emotions and the list goes on. They are often over medicated, find little to no relief in psychological treatment and they isolate. 
 

But then every once in a while a warrior finds life again and a peace he/she felt would never return.  This comes in the form of a dog, in most cases a dog who was destined for euthanasia. Almost instantly, a bond forms.  Perhaps it can be explained, perhaps not. 
But the only important thing is that it happens. Training begins for this team.  And in a few months a service dog emerges that has the ability to know, to understand, to sense, to watch, to become one with this person who distrusts   because he was taught to. This dog accepts the warrior unconditionally and slowly but surely changes take place.
It is a place of magic and mystery to many perhaps.  But to the warriors who have written me time and time again....they sincerely feel they would not be alive today without their dog, their best friend, that was rescued who quite literally in many cases saved their lives.  It is magic and it is mystery. And it isn't important to know how or why.  The only thing that is important is that it works.  It quite simply works.  We could analyze this forever, but the love and trust between the two is indeed changing lives and saving lives ~ both human and dog.
 
The pace that most of us keep finds that we seldom stop and really listen to people.  We seldom grant another person to express what is in their heart and respect and honor that.  But there is always room in our hearts for an honest love.  This honest love for warriors can come from a dog. Our warriors have felt out of place and lost, but with a dog by their side they begin to feel again and if they feel their is tremendous evidence that they are alive!
 
From More Dog Psalms by Herbert Brokering
Longing
I am dog, I long with all my heart.  I do not make valentines or send roses or write love letters.  But you can see these in my eyes, in my silence, in a bark whisper, a lick, a nuzzle, a loving whimper  My longing is like a love son.  The sound is beyond me; it is not my own.  I am silent so we both know, we both can tell, we are certain, there is no doubt.  I long; only you can satisfy my wish.  I am dog and my heart is insatiable.  You know when to hold my face close, whisper, see in me. My heart is full.  I give it to you the way dog gives. My valentine is bigger than my eyes show.  See my face.  You know longing. I am in your eyes.  Nothing will erase my longing."
 
A dog cannot salute our warriors like they salute the flag. But they can honor, respect, be great hearted and love to a depth most of us will never comprehend.  To a dog a warrior is their flag. To a warrior his/her dog is their life.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Friday, November 15, 2013

OUR WARRIORS JOURNEY THROUGH THE GARDEN GATES



I love garden gates.  I love the not knowing what is behind them.  I love the secret of what stands beyond.  I love the anticipation. 

It is like a new day opening each morning.  What will the day bring?  What if I open a new door?  What will I find?

"A garden must combine the poetic and the mysterious with a feeling of serenity and joy." ! Luis Barragan

Perhaps it not unlike going through a garden gate to our warriors, as they reach out to take a leash and a dog attached to that leash and opening a door to a future they never imagined would come to fruition. A life beyond the hell endured.  A life where they learned they were not defeated and deep down inside they believe that just perhaps they 'can.' They can go on.  They can take that next step.  They can hold onto the leash and return to living the life they always dreamed of living.  A life they fought for so that those of us at home can live in peace.  They have fought so that we can pursue our careers, our lives, our passions with never a thought of their own. 

But once home, life isn't the same.  The hyper vigilance consumes them and they can't let go.  But when they take that leash and on step at a time venture out into the world they fought for, little by little, they come back to us...they come back home...they can open that gate and find love, and peace and that the best, and perhaps only way out of a problem, out of hell, is through it.

As I type this, my golden lab/retriever has laid her head on my lap. I type one handed so that I may pet her and stroke her fur and listen to her softly breathe and sigh occasionally.  It is as if she knows I am struggling for the right words...the words to encourage, to inspire, to motivate and to drown out the horrifying thoughts that consume so many of our warriors when they return home from war. I want to help them, guide them, and walk with them through the gate to a world free from the torment  as they return to a land they helped protect.

Sometimes we are invited to act.  To move forward and away from.  It is turbulence.  It is a time of self renewal and a time of learning to let go!  We are all given second chances every day but seldom do we take them.  It is scary, hard and lonely. People don't understand or are too preoccupied with their own lives to care.

"Sadness flies on the wings of the morning, and out of the heart of darkness comes the light."
~ Jean Giraudoux
 
 
So to our warriors and their dogs this morning I quote Mary Pickford, "Today is a new day.  You will get out of it just what you have put into it...if you have made mistakes, even serious mistakes, there is always another chance for you.  And supposing you have tried and failed again and again, you may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing that we call "failure" is not the falling down, but the staying down."

It is no surprise that having your best friend, your dog, your service dog by your side makes this journey not quite so difficult. There are at least a hundred warriors who look me in the eye, with all the care and meaning possible, and tell me that having their service dog by their side has completely 100% changed their lives.  Completely!!!  They have opened that garden gate and found the other side.  And on this other side is a world born anew, a new chance, a new opportunity.  They find that yesterday was a nightmare and tomorrow a vision of hope and that today with their 'battle buddy' by their side there is a peace they thought they had lost forever. They find they are no longer stuck in the hell of war.  Today with their service dog is the beginning of a new life as they go confidently in the direction of their dreams.

"Life only demands from you the strength you possess.  Only one feat is possible ~ not to have run away."  ~ Dag Hammarskjold


 
 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

PUTTY IN HER PAWS

It isn't always easy living with a PBGV or as they are often called a Peeb! But it is impossible not to fall in love with one.  Their delight in the smallest detail of life can turn a bad situation into a tender moment.
 
Gracie can demolish 5 rolls of toilet paper, retrieve the tissues off of the night stand and drag the sofa pillows to the yard.  But with one paw on my knee, I become putty in her paws.  She s a treasure, a delight, and a blessing, a trouble maker and a clown all in one.
 
She makes me smile when I don't feel like it.  And she manages to chase the blues right out of the door. Her sheer delight in watching me open the back door, just for her, us such joy.  Bouncing up and down, ears fling, feet elevated from the floor by at least 5 inches, she tears out the door on some clandestine mission of grand importance.  How I love this dog.  And blessedly, I am not the only one.  For several years she has worked with and visited America's wounded war heroes. It is here that her reason for living shines...you see she is blind.
 
Mark Twain once said that "Every great poem begins with a lump in your throat."  For me, I couldn't agree more.  Gracie is more than excited to visit our favorite soldiers at anytime or any place.  She has taught me that life is a spiritual journey, and sometimes all you have to do is show up and have a little faith that something completely amazing is possible that day.  And every now and then, right when you least expect it, something amazing does happen.  And you are no more in control than a feather in the wind.
 
The greatest journeys begin with a single step.  With our amazing dogs we have the power to change some one's life.  To give a moment that will be cherished forever.  The simple and honest act of taking Gracie to work with our wounded warriors can bring meaning and depth and poetry to someone who needs it more than they know.

A friend of mine had asked to see some photos of Gracie with 'her' warriors.  I sent her an assortment.  Soon she wrote back thanking me and then the net day wrote back a second time to tell me how they had touched her and that she couldn't get them our of her mind. 
 
I understand this.  To be witness to Gracie's intentional motivation of loving and being loved, it isn't difficult to understand why people respond to her as they do.  The responses of the courageous young men and women to Grace are often overpowering.  These are guys and gals who laid their lives on the line, who took the bullets, who fought the fight and paid the price.  Yet in the presence of this 28 pound dog, they turn into children with their first puppy.  They hold her head gently in both of their hands and looks into her eyes with love, a deep and special love.  They may never see her again, but for that moment they connected to something greater than themselves.  For that single moment, that cannot be explained, they felt loved back, totally and completely.
 
Gracie, as should we all, sees past the outward appearances of people.  She touches hearts in a way that defies all logical explanation. And yet somehow it is explained clearly.  This intense, and unconditional love, is what we should all strive for but seldom do.
 
Tom Davis in "Why Dogs Do That," says "There are no strings attached, no riders, or special stipulations; there's no fine print, no expiration date, no statute of limitations.  They (dogs) love to a depth and degree that few of us, I fear, reciprocate."
 
I find myself remembering Gracie's and my time with the warriors in snapshot like moments.  Struggles, tears, fears, courage, and smiles are often too powerful to fully comprehend.  They they come back to me, much like the photographs did to my friend.  They are forceful, strong, intense, turbulent, and ardent.  Never to be forgotten or taken for granted.
 
None of us remember days.  What we do remember are those moments, those snapshots that cause that lump in our throats to surface and the tears to come.  The gasping moments, when we unexpectedly see the face, or hear the voice of a loved one or a flower blooming on the side of a cliff that literally takes our breath away.  A wise and cherished friend once told me that every one of us has that sad place deep inside of us.  It is from that place that hope and peace and grace come.  And for me it is compassion.  For, as my friend told me, out of compassion comes passion.

"Let's not make such a habit of hurry and work that when we leave this world, we will feel impelled to hurry through the spaces of the universe using our wings for feather dusters to clean away the star dust."
~Laura Ingalls Wilder

Sunday, November 10, 2013

PTSD ~ ACCEPTING BROKENESS

Late last night I wanted to write.  I wanted to sit down and lash out at a world that sends our young men and women off to war and returns them to us broken.  I waited until this morning, giving me time to reflect and string the words in my heart into sentences.
 
It is no surprise to most of you that I find peace and great comfort at the beach...here in South Texas on Mustang Island. I love it there in the winter when there are few visitors, save the Winter Texans from 'up north'.  I walk the beach endlessly and find broken shells, pick them up, for no one else wants them.  They want only the perfect shells.  But to me they signify an ability and will to go on, just as broken people do.  Sometimes they don't know how or feel they have the strength to do so, but often they fight their way through.  All too often, many don't.
 
Being broken brings tears, pain, frustration and a mighty struggle against what has happened to people, where they have been in their lives, and the horrors they have lived through. To me PTSD can also stand for Pain, Tears, Struggle, Doubt.  But within this struggle comes courage and strength, sometimes just taking one step outside the front door into the grass...into a life long forgotten and out of reach, but yet never truly forgotten, and a life they fear they will never find again.

At the sea, time stands still.  There is no rush, no hurry, no worry ~ only peace. One becomes mesmerized by the waves and the white lace foam they leave behind, as they flow in and out.  The repetition complete will soon begin again and one becomes mesmerized by the calm that overtakes you.
 
The broken shells that are left in the wake on the shore are survivors.  Slightly broken, disfigured, but to me nonetheless beautiful, as they survived the pounding of the crashing waves.  I wonder how this is any different from any of us, from our warriors. 
 
We all, I imagine, have been wounded whether visibly or invisibly.  The trick is to not quit.  The trick is to find that place and space where you can 'just be' when you don't think you can take another step or ever smile again.
 
My working with and loving our wounded warriors is also no surprise to any of you.  They have been tossed and worn like the shells on the beach, but they don't stand alone. Sadly some find it easier to quit than to live through the hell they carried home from war. Fortunately the majority accept what has happened to them to some degree and choose to move forward at any cost.  They realize life will never be the same again and they no longer find it possible to pretend to be perfect, complete, or the same person.  It is in that place that they become 'real', as they find comfort, release, and acceptance.  And because of this they inspire and motivate others to accept their own brokenness.  And they inspire those of us on the periphery to become inspired as well, as they share their stories, awakening others to realize they too must release their imperfections and pain.  It is here that the warriors give all of us permission to hurt, cry and just be human.  Taking a risk and opening up, allows others to feel safe to do the same.  This I know for a fact. Our warriors have the ability to provide to us yet another gift. And as you listen and perhaps comfort them simply by remaining still and listening with your heart, you too will be able to feel safe and comforted.
 
So this early Sunday morning, I invite all of you to never allow yourselves to get lost. Love life, take a risk, love those that love you with all your heart.  Believe in your dreams.  Appreciate the extraordinary in the ordinary!!
 
We are not the only ones hurting and struggling with Pain, Tears, Struggle and Doubt.  We all carry this load at one time or another in our lives. This simple, uncomplicated, realization lifts our own burdens and lightens our own loads.

Today, this minute, is all any of us are guaranteed.  I choose to not destroy this one precious minute by grieving over the past or worrying about tomorrow and things I have no control over.  What does matter is building your dreams and claiming your joy...never allowing anyone to take that away from you.  Never ever.
 
"The world goes on despite our despair.  The world offers itself to your imagination."
~ Mary Oliver
 
Be a friend to someone struggling, hurting, in despair. The smallest act can bear the largest fruit.  And you will soon discover that a good friend is a shelter. Surround yourself with people who love you, respect you, who listen to you, don't judge you, care for you unconditionally, and create a bond with you.  And most of all people who create a safe place for you no matter what.
 
 "The only whole heart is a broken one! " ~ Rabbi Menachen Mendel
 
And my favorite  ~  "Look to build a bridge over the pain to the other side."
~ Anonymous
 
For me pain has opened my compassion.  Through it I have discovered who I am and what exactly I was put on this earth to do. To create a place of calm and a state of grace, with a hint of mystery in its stillness to provide a place of safety and sanctuary.  A place that grounds me to the present moment.  It is here that I am nourished, find sanctuary, poetry, friendship and time for reflection.  This place feeds my soul.  This place makes me real.
 
"Ask once, believe, receive." ~ Author Unknown



Saturday, November 9, 2013

I SHALL WEAR TURQUOISE AND DIAMONDS

 
 
 
When I Am An Old Horsewoman
I shall wear turquoise and diamonds,
And a straw hat that doesn’t suit me
And I shall spend my social security on
white wine and carrots,
And sit in my alleyway of my barn...
And listen to my horses breathe.

I will sneak out in the middle of a summer night
And ride the old bay gelding,
Across the moonstruck meadow
If my old bones will allow
And when people come to call, I will smile and nod
As I walk past the gardens to the barn
and show instead the flowers growing
inside stalls fresh-lined with straw.

I will shovel and sweat and wear hay in my hair
as if it were a jewel
And I will be an embarrassment to ALL
Who will not yet have found the peace in being free
to have a horse as a best friend
A friend who waits at midnight hour
With muzzle and nicker and patient eyes
For the kind of woman I will be
When I am old.

-Author Patty Barnhart

ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE

 
 
" NO TRUMPETS SOUND WHEN IMPORTANT DECISIONS OF OUR LIFE ARE MADE.  DESTINY IS MADE KNOWN SILENTLY." ~ AGNES DEMILLE
 
New Beginnings.  A fresh start.  These things don't come easily.  But sometimes one encounters so many 'stop' signs that you can't help but feel you are being guided in a different direction. You fight it as you always have, trying to find another way into the all too familiar quagmire that has always held you in its grip. Then comes a place and time when you realize as Thoreau said, you have to 'go confidently in the direction of your dreams? Live the life you have imagined. As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler...'
 
There are times when new beginnings take place quickly, but more than likely they take place one step at a time. 
 
For me this takes baby steps, beginning with simplifying my own life. This is no easy task since my life has been made up of how much I can accomplish in one day to get to the next day to accomplish more.  You see people expect you to continue in that vein.  But when you finally get to the realization that enough is enough, those that care and understand will be there for you and those that don't drop by the wayside. Some ask me what I did today...what did I accomplish....did you get everything done. What if I said I sat on the patio and watched the clouds and defined their shapes into things I love? What if I said I read poetry by Mary Oliver, my favorite poet, living or dead?  What if I said I sat and listened to Indian flutes and gently and lovingly petted my dogs? Or what if I cleaned out a portion of my office and enjoyed every piece of paper shredded? What happened to the old Patsy they would wonder.
 
It isn't easy ceasing the frantic, frenzied and frenetic lifestyle once lived.  You have to learn how to breathe.  How to find peace in solitude.  You have to come to terms with a new you.  And perhaps you will discover that this you was in there all the while just waiting for you to find it and to take those first steps towards a new beginning.  For in new beginnings you will find that all things are possible.
 
So for today, for me, I find that there is no pain in change. And with that comes the realization that there is no changing others.  For changing ourselves takes only a brief decision and a choice.
 
"By perseverance the snail reached the Ark."
~ C.H. Spurgeon
*****
 
"Progress is impossible without change; and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything." ~ George Bernard Shaw
*****
 
And my favorite:
 
"Begin doing what you want to do now.  We are not living in eternity.  We  have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand ~ and melting like a snowflake.  Let us use it before it is too late." ~ Marie Beynon Ray
 
 

Friday, November 8, 2013

THE DEPTH OF AN ENORMOUS BOND


"We recognize that animals seem to feel more intensely and purely than we do.  Perhaps we yearn to express ourselves with such abandon and integrity.  Animals fully reveal to us what we already glimpse: it is feeling ~ and the organization of feeling~ that forms the core of self.  We also sense that through our relationship to animals we can recover that which is true within us and, through the discovery of that truth within us and, through the discovery of that truth, find our spiritual direction.  Quite simply, animals teach us about love: how to love, how to enjoy being loved, how loving itself is an activity that generates more love, radiating out and encompassing an ever larger circle of others." ~Mary Lou Randour, Animal Grace

 
 
I chose this photograph I took years ago of my beloved Penny.  She was inducted into the TEXAS ANIMAL HALL OF FAME and was selected as one of the MOST DISTINGUISHED ANIMALS IN THE UNITED STATES. She was one of a kind and always will be to me. And she will always be close to that lump in my throat when I remember sitting on the floor releasing tons of tension just brushing her beautiful fur. She loved me as I did her, so deeply that I often thought my heart would burst. She died after a three year battle with cancer and will always remain a very large part of who I am and the direction I took in life with her by my side. Penny taught me about love and how deep it can be for another creature on this earth.  When she looked at me her eyes melted right into my soul.  Until the day she left me I remember every breath she took and the depth of a love I had never known before.
 
She stopped burglars from breaking into my home the first night I had her.  The next day I found out our birthdays were the same, February 20th.  It was a done deal. She was mine and I was hers for 10 years.  The sculpture in the photograph is done by a famous artist.  I reminds me of my Penny and how I sometimes felt like a little girl when she buried her face into my chest.
 
She always held me to the present.  She could read me like a book, involuntary and voluntary.
To her I was exposed and wide open.  I could be myself.  I could finally be myself.

****


It was in Penny's memory and in her honor that I wrote PENNY'S FROM HEAVEN: STORIES OF HEALING. She brought so much joy, comfort and peace to the thousands of patients across the country as a therapy dog.  But more than that as an extension of me.  She and I together were a team.  A good team.  Together we made a difference. 
 
Today would have been her birthday with me.  Today, as each and every day, I miss her.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

THE ART OF CHANGE

 

It is Autumn...the leaves are changing colors and the days are getting shorter.  The art of change is upon us!


Susan Peabody in "The Art of Changing ~ Your Path to a Better Life", puts it succinctly. "Change is a natural process that can lead to true happiness by helping us reach our full potential.  It is also the answer to solving many of our problems.  Unfortunately, sometimes we are afraid to change. We become creatures of habit.  We find ourselves feeling bored, unsettled, lonely, depressed or out of control." She continues..." the ability to change is something that many people only dream about. It is a commodity often in short supply, and without it life can be anything from boring to tragic." 

Those words hit me like a ton of bricks. Why would we want our lives to be boring and potentially tragic?

It's not a big secret. I yearn to change and gain control of my life on my terms.  I, like most I assume, traverse each day on auto pilot...doing what is expected of me, what I have determined I have to do, doing what others want me to do, and the list goes on. But I don't really want to do most of these things.  We become locked into a routine of stifling and suffocating repetition.  And here comes the part where we don't feel fulfilled. The time comes when we have to carve out the life that we want...a better life.
 
I have spent way too much time longing for things that I will never obtain. I too have become a slave to routine. Last week my eyes opened and my soul let me know what I need and must do.

The week was spent in magical Sedona, Arizona. It was a time of reflection and inspiration. In my heart it was the beginning of change for me. It is there that you will find a vortex, several of them, in the canyons of the millions of years old red rocks.  But my vortex was found sitting alone with a friend on a patio at twilight, listening to the most beautiful music coming from  handmade flutes. Music came from the heart of Steve, by way of the flutes, as he opened himself and his heart up to the moment. As the pink tinged clouds signaled the end of another day, a closing and an awakening also presented itself to me. In his music I found peace, longing, and release.  I felt history all around me of Indians from long ago.  I felt the spirit of my grandmother who instilled in me a love of all things Native American and tears rolled down my cheeks.  There was a calm that overcame me, much like a warm blanket of comfort, of knowing, of centering, of arms wrapped around me providing me safety and knowledge. I had a longing for peace like never before. Watching an eagle riding the currents at sunset, I knew at that moment  I had to take back control of my life. 

Later as I was tucked into bed, reality reared its head and it became  all too clear that there are multiple stumbling blocks between me and 'change'. On the positive side, it also became clear that change is that which means we are still growing.  Growing and changing keeps us from getting stuck.  Taking steps to achieve that goal is as Peabody says, "the bridge between your problems and the solutions.  It is your path to a better life." 

I need a more balanced life, as I suspect many of you do.   I found this clear in magical, mystical Sedona when doors opened in me and my heart opened to them. I found I have the capacity to change, which many people only dream about.  But how does one begin to go about this after being trapped for so long.
 
I quote again from Susan Peabody. "The beginning of change is like this.  You do something different and finally something clicks.  It is all very mysterious.  You don't really understand it, but when it happens you know, you immediately open the safe and take out your valuables."  These are valuables that have been locked up for way too long and represent all the things you will become when you change.
 
Over the past few months I have gained many insights and have a confidence that has been lacking. Changes have and are taking place. I have begun to become keenly aware of when I am doing those things I don't want to do.  Panic and exhaustion appear, resulting in negativity, inhibiting change. It is almost a feeling of suffocation.
 
Today I begin. Today I pray for the energy and willingness to take back my life.  Today I begin the change and will surround myself with those who support me and my affirmations. Today is the first day of the rest of my life.









Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Dogs Love with all Their Hearts

Dogs love with all their hearts. You can see in their eyes, in their silence, in a lick, or a nuzzle, or a loving sigh....their love...their longing for nothing but to be with you. You are their world.

In their eyes you will see that this is their love song. My Remy has his very special love song...a long deep sigh that relaxes me in the middle of the night and chases my nightmares away.  My Wally settles into slumber with his song reminiscent of a whimper full of love, as he settles into his pillow. My Kelsie observes my every movement, waiting to be needed or loved or spoken to in quiet and reverent whispers. I take her face in my hands and see a glimpse of heaven. My little sightless Gracie sees with her heart and feels with my gentle touches.  She rolls onto her back in my arms with a trusting heart, that without exception opens my own heart so wide I sometimes feel the tears roll down my cheeks.  Nothing will erase this love, nothing ever can.

My dogs are certain.  I am certain.  The love and certainty between us will never end.  Taking the faces of my dogs and holding them in my hands and looking into their eyes, we both know....we can both tell, there is a most insatiable longing between us. There is nothing else like it.
 

MAKING THE WORLD BEARABLE, EVEN WHEN IT'S NOT

I offer these words from a posting by a facebook friend regarding her dog.  "Bonnie makes the world bearable, even when it's not."
 
Today these words seem especially poignant and true.
 
Our dogs lift us up above the unbearable. For all of us the way we grieve, the way we live, is a personal thing.  We can grieve for lost things, people, pets, life,  dreams, friends, any myriad of things that we have at one time or another treasured and loved and believed.

Our feelings and dreams are so much a part of what it is to be human.  The trouble with dreams is that they sometimes, often times, never come true.  But we live hoping that sometimes they just might. But when the world is unbearable, we sometimes stay in an isolated place where no one can hurt us.  For me personally the answer that I find difficult to verbalize to those that care about me is that "I wish I could give you a part of me, but that is not something I have in my possession right now." 

I have spent much of my life in mental pain.  So much so at times I don't remember what it is like to be happy....to smile...to rejoice....to sing....to dance, to feel the absence of pain, to not be hurt by others.  Maybe the answer lies in unlearning pain. It has been suggested that I stop doing everything and just 'be'.  This is alien territory for me.  How do I sit and just 'be'?  How do I explain this to those I care most about without hurting their feelings?

I have helped others my entire life.  Those that were sick, mistreated, injured, abused, dying so that I could feel some sense of worth and in relieving some of their pain, I relieved some of mine. For you see, others diminished my self worth every minute of every day.  Now there are times when I am depleted to the core. Times when I have nothing else to give. 
 
I have become a warrior myself.  A warrior to get my life back after many decades of manipulation, control and heartbreak.  This isn't easy.  But I am taking one step at a time to achieve this before it is too late.  I want to experience it, feel it, taste it, have it cover me like a warm soft blanket.  Then I look around me at four dogs peacefully sleeping and I realize that they are the prime example.  They are quite simply content, quietly and peacefully watching me for the slightest movement, the slightest engagement I might have with the world. 
 
"I love you ~ I am at rest with you ~ I have come home."
~Dorothy Sayers
 
******************
 
"Did you know the people that are usually the strongest are usually the most sensitive?  Did you know the people who exhibit the most kindness are the first to get mistreated?  Did you know the one who takes care of others all the time are usually the ones who need it most? Did you know the three hardest thing to say are I love you, I'm sorry, and help me." ~Unknown
*********
 
"The essential message of unconditional love is one of liberation.  You can be whoever you are, express all your thoughts and feelings with absolute confidence.  You do not have to be fearful that love will be taken away.
 
You will not be punished for your openness or honesty.  There is no admission price to my love, no rental fees or installment payments to be made.  There may be days when disagreements and disturbing emotions may come between us.  There may be times when psychological or physical miles may lie between us.  But I have give you the word of my commitment.  I have set my life on a course.  I will not go back on my word to you.  So feel free to be yourself, to tell me of your negative and positive reactions of your warm and cold feelings.  I cannot always predict my reactions or guarantee my strength, but one thing I do know and I do want you to know:  I will not reject you!" 
 
~FR. John Powell, Unconditional Love
 
This is how I feel about my dogs and they about me. When the world comes tumbling down, I need only to look to my dogs to stabilize me and bring me home once again. These words above are so full of beauty and hope. This is what I want to feel.