Thursday, March 9, 2017

Willingness? Hmm how about you?

Hello all, hope everyone is doing great things with all this beautiful weather we're having. Oops, maybe I'm rubbing it in this 75-degree sunny weather is not being enjoyed by everyone just those of us smart enough to move south during the winter months.

No matter where we are in our lives we all have our missions to serve. A wise man once told me that we must figure out what our talents are so that we can share them with others and glorify the gifts that God has given us to the fullest. Becoming willing to live our lives this way is not an easy decision because it means we have to give up our selfish nature as much as possible. For me especially that is not easy to do. Naturally I want to be there for others as much as possible but do I want to sacrifice my comforts and time?

I heard an awesome bible study the other day talking about servanthood and what that used to mean back in the day of the apostles and Christ. We're not talking about someone who serves today and is then thanked we're talking about an entirely selfless person who is at the bottom of the food chain! Someone who never gets simple thanks no praises nothing. Today we, especially Americans are very appreciative of people who serve. I was brought up to treat the janitor and the CEO with the same respect. It's common courtesy today, so to grasp that level of servant the Bible talks about is hard to do. To become willing to live my life as a servant helping others is even more challenging.

I'm not going to delve into all my personal issues, but I will say that over that past few years I've become much more aware of how I must serve if I'm going to be able to live with myself. Focusing on others has allowed me to see life from a different angle and freed me to understand that living not just for the day but the moment is paramount the freedom from self truly is worth the journey. Mike, my service dog, has opened so many doors to my mission and life that I'm so grateful today. He has allowed me to step up and out of myself even when I may not be in the mood. I finally understand why these four-legged creatures are named God spelled backward. Dog.

I thank God for the willingness to move forward with my life when I just wanted to quit. Today I spoke to a seniors club and to engage with them and share the story of how these dogs change lives, was just wonderful. It's not about me feeling good it's about making a difference in the community and helping others to understand that no one should ever have to quit before the miracle of life. My story is not all that unusual, but the message resonates enough to allow others to get on board. When others become aware of the suicidal rates of veterans and the other issues, many veterans have then learned that these four-legged blessings can bring about changes it is so worthwhile.

If you have not been touched by one of these service dogs or a veteran who has had a miracle happen to them look around, they are all over. Some are WWII veterans, and some are current conflict, but all veterans have a story that should be told. Sit them down and listen to them I bet you will be transformed.

God Bless

Monday, March 6, 2017

Ye of little Faith?

“How would your life be different if…You stopped making negative, judgmental assumptions about people you encounter? Let today be the day…You look for the good in everyone you meet and respect their journey.” 
― Steve Maraboli

Being a parent and how God must feel? God is not a Grandfather to anyone, so he has an intimate relationship with each and every one of us. I know when my children were little I was responsible for their well-being, but as they've aged they grew into responsible people, and I only wish I could remove the pain and suffering they may have to go through. To think that God has had to do that same release with everyone allowing us to be human and still loving us in spite of who we are and what we do is amazing.

“Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding.” (Proverbs 3:13)

The fact that I have to focus on my life and live to
my best ability not living for people places and things around me, not trying to control or make things happen. When I focus on my world accepting my faults and admitting my wrongs I can live forward. I can put my hand out to help others not because I want to look a certain way or because I'm better than someone but because when I'm helping others, I'm not doing the wrongs that my human nature naturally does. As a wise man once told me if you are busy doing the do's you don't have time for the don't that life has to offer.

I love the story told to me when I was fighting against my beliefs in a higher power (God), and I was so sure that no power out there could ever run a world such we have here on earth. This world that is so tortured and stricken with tragedy after tragedy. I was fighting with a personal daemon of drugs and alcohol that told me I didn't have a problem it was everything around me that was wrong. A little old lady looked at me, a juvenile delinquent if ever there was one, and said if you are not an alcoholic and you go to AA, what have you lost? Then she said, if you are an alcoholic and don't go to AA oh God what have you lost! By this time I had accepted, I could not drink and be normal like most kids my age so that statement rang true. Her next statement just as simply blew me away!
She took the same simple philosophy and stretched it into a statement about God even I could not dispute. She said if there is no God and I believe in God, what have I lost? But, if there is a God and I don't believe in that God oh God what have I lost! Wow, profound at best my mind could no longer flat out deny nor dispute on the grounds I had been, which were completely self-centered ego, me not wanting to admit I was not in control. That simple statement allowed me to see the light at the end of the tunnel as it was not that it might have been the train coming to run me over.

Over many years I've grown and tested that same faith. It has wavered many times, to say the least. I've seen things that most should never have to see. Encountered events that's still to this day cause me to shiver with the thoughts of them. I saw the birth of two miracles, my son, and daughter which I would never have expected to been blessed with. I've been so depressed in life that I played with a 45 caliber pistol wanting nothing more than to have it over. The lonely feeling that no human power could understand me and I was alone with myself locked in a dark, dismal cave of life's bottomless pit.

It was not the help given to me that brought me out of that cave so much as it is the constant reaching out of hands of others. Those hands weren't hands passed in pity as I had always perceived them but hands up as if the person below or above was push/pulling me along with them on their journeys. You see the gift is the giving; it's the process, not the wrapping. The community of brothers and sisters interwoven together creating a tapestry of life.

So that is my take on faith today. Somehow I felt moved to share this so here it is. Maybe this is a new direction in my blogging God knows I have these thoughts all the time maybe I'll start doing this more often. Let me know what you think.

God bless

“Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.” 
― Wayne W. Dyer

Sunday, March 5, 2017

“Things change. And friends leave. Life doesn't stop for anybody.” 
― Stephen Chbosky

So here we are again wondering why it has been so long since I last wrote, chastising myself for being so neglectful of this blog. The bottom line is that with all that I seem to be doing I somehow forget to do these things I truly do enjoy doing. Maybe someday this will take a bigger stage, but for now, you are all stuck with the rantings on the untimely nature they happen.

“The truth is, unless you let go, unless you forgive yourself, unless you forgive the situation, unless you realize that the situation is over, you cannot move forward.” 
― Steve Maraboli

My life over the past year has been a whirlwind ride if nothing else. So many changes for good and bad but most importantly I have been changing myself not the world. The freedom that comes from finally realizing that taking control over what needs to be done instead of wishing I had control over what I have no controls over. For those wondering what that is, it is owning myself and letting everyone else be who they are. My health and mind are so much better when focused on the one person I can control then all of the turmoil of the outside world. 

2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 

That particular verse rings so true in my life over the past 12 months. So much has changed I have embraced the fact that I have a mission that I am pushed forward and into, sometimes with the fingernails getting stuck on the walls as I grasp trying not to do what I know God is pushing me forward too.  Having moved into a small western NC county that you would think would allow me some obscurity but finding that it has a veteran population of over 10,000 and a true need for people to get active. I continue to find that Mike opens doors with people that would not talk to someone from the VA or other VSO's. (Veteran Service Organizations) 

These interactions while part of my daily life have changed my life and I can only hope others around me. Telling my story and helping others to become comfortable with their stories has become part of my living life on life's terms. This week I had a remarkable experience while traveling north in the camper. As usual, I rarely stay in a campground. Instead, I do what many seasoned RV'ers call boondocking. (Dry camping, "walmarting" or many other names also.) I had stopped in at one of my friends along the coast of New Jersy, having a great dinner and conversation. After dinner, I was ready for a rest before heading up and around NYC, so I started looking for available parking. My friend mentioned a pastor friend and his church as an option. Not one to turn down a safe-haven (no this is not Bethlehem, but the story could be I guess.)

His friend said sure, come on by so we drove on over, and I found a safe level space to park. The pastor came out to meet Mike & I which is not at all unusual, but his greeting threw me for a loop. I am a Christian, and there is no hiding that. I am not a bible thumper nor am I a real prayer out loud. To be honest, I get all tongue-tied if asked to say a prayer of any length in public. All that said, when the Pastor came up shook my hand and said tell me about your ministry I was a tad taken back. Don't get me wrong I do consider the daily interactions I have with people to be God inspired and a mission of God to help other Veterans in whatever manner I can. What I had never thought of though was being referred to as a missionary. (I mean come on people, I was a grunt in the Army, and I am not really what I would consider the typical missionary.)

We all talked for a while, sharing stories and all but my mind could not just let go of what he had said. Who would have thought that a couple of words could change the way I looked at my daily actions and interactions. He wasn't saying I needed to open a church or change at all; he was saying I already was a missionary. That blew me away, it still does. We have all been given so many gifts in this life, and it is our responsibility to recognize them and then use them to glorify God. I hope and prayer that I do that already but after that conversation, my mind has been spinning. The wonderment of "am I doing enough or even doing what I am supposed to be doing?" continues to seep into my thoughts.

“Attitude is a choice. Happiness is a choice. Optimism is a choice. Kindness is a choice. Giving is a choice. Respect is a choice. Whatever choice you make makes you. Choose wisely.” 
― Roy T. Bennett

My choices have made me who I am. God had given me free will to become the person I am leading me even when I wasn't looking or was so stubborn that I fought hard to run the other way. Today my life is an amazing collection of trials and tribulations that create a story many people find inspiring for some reason. To me, it is my life, and I would not trade it for anyone else. I do not regret the past nor wish to change it. The future is so unbelievably beautiful because I know that God is here guiding me. 
The most important part of all this is not that someone pointed out that I am a missionary, but that life moves forward with a design so much greater than anything we could ever have planned. Who would have ever expected this juvenile delinquent kid from Wallingford CT to amount to anything? Well, the most important answer to that and the only one that counts is God! He lets me know daily how much he loves me through that one on one interactions in the grocery store or on the street. All I have to do is say thank you, God.

Mark 10:45 - “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

2017, a New Year not a New Start!

The end of 2016 was a whirlwind that came upon Mike & I like a hurricane, fast and furious but with an unrelenting strength not wanting to release us. After our trip out west for the filming session the crud that seemed to attack so many souls took hold in my lungs and beat me like a drum sometimes giving the appearance of letting up and others crashing and banging so loudly that all I could do was bury my head and wish the day would end.

I still feel the remnants holding on like barnacles on an old whaling ship, but I refuse to give in. The "Winter Blizzard" all six inches has put the western North Carolina are into a deep freeze pattern where everything closed for days on end which was fun to watch. Today the temps will be up in the Mid 50's so the schools and roads will be rolled back out after an appropriate delay of course and life will resume. Yes, my amusement with the methods of "winter warfare" down south is probably a tad warped having lived in the land of the chosen frozen for so long, but hey I am allowed some solace when it comes to my new adopted home base.

Now on to the blog, the real reason any and all of you tune in for this dribble I write out once in a while. When I last took to the keyboard, Mike and I had been flying the friendly skies from sea to shining sea. The fruits of that travel have started to appear already out in the world of the Internet. Click Here to see the first of the video's that will be coming out from the filming done. There will be other video's that will be compiled featuring the bond between Mike & I as a Service Dog Team. PetIQ is the company that funded this project, and I cannot thank them enough for helping in getting the word out about the good that these service dogs do in our veterans lives. This project should benefit VetDogs and Veterans in the long run.

Soon after getting back to Western NC I decided a trip out to a Japenese restaurant would be a nice break from my basic cooking skills. Well, I have had a service dog for many years now and rarely do I encounter issues with places that do not understand the ADA law. That all came to a screeching halt in Dec when for the first time I was not able to educate and continue my dining experience.  One of the things I do is prepare for such occasions because you never want to be caught off guard and not ready to work with someone. In my mind no one is ever out to blatantly break the law, there have to be factors involved that are leading the party to ask me to leave. It is my job to educate as best as I can. All that said, nothing I said or did swayed this proprietor to allow me to stay and eat.

A few things I would like to point out here at this juncture. So often I see or hear about people with service dogs that were denied access getting into major issues with store owners or police over the ADA laws. Personally, I find this to be a negative on all fronts when it comes to helping future access. It may make for better news stories, but it tends to put a nasty taste in everyone's mind and causes the unnecessary bias towards the community as a whole. Working with people to educate in a positive manner sometimes requires that we step back allow a tempory loss while we assess the situation and come up with a positive direction that will open doors for everyone.

This is what I ended up doing at this particular establishment. Instead of causing a scene and having the police called I videoed the event and politely left. They were having nothing with the law when I showed it to them and tried to help them understand it. Whether it was a language barrier or just ignorance, I have no clue. Due to sickness, I have not been able to go back to this establishment again to attempt another entry. I will soon and this time I will have more people with me to back me up along with a translation for them in case it was a language issue. The bottom line is that allowing them to continue to go against the ADA Law is not what I proposed when I left it was just not worth trying to shut them down and making a scene that makes us all look bad.

The other thing I will do is go back off-peak hours in hopes that they will be more understanding if they are not at their busiest time. All of this is in hopes to have a friendly future visit for all service dogs at establishments, not one that when they see dogs coming they cringe thinking that they will lose business or run the risk of being shut down.

That is enough of my soapbox for today.

A few things I did that others may find helpful in a situation like this:

When they came to me and said I had to leave because of the dog, I immediately said he was a service dog not a pet. I then explained there was the ADA Law that made allowances for Service Dogs. They said they didn't care. I said no problem I had encountered this before and that I worked with other disabled veterans and helped in training on how to handle situations like this so I was going to video them tellimg me I had to leave. They agreed. I started to video Click here to see the video of the conversation if you want.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

High Flying Times!

“Courage is the most important of all the virtues because, without courage, you can't practice any other virtue consistently.” 
― Maya Angelou

This past week Mike & I found us flying to the West Coast to film two different videos with a production company. These both will be aired sometime shortly within markets across the country. Unfortunately, I do not know the specifics of when or where at this point but will keep everyone updated as information is released. The first video will feature the bond between animals and humans while the second is going to focus on the human/service dog connection. Stay tuned; I saw some of the raw footage shot and it was incredible.

“Tears shed for another person are not a sign of weakness. They are a sign of a pure heart.” ― José N. Harris

During the interview portion of the day, I was asked many questions to help the production crew understand the why's of what I do with my volunteering. A little information about the crew themselves may be to help understand the process. They were a young group that had experienced more than your average worldly experiences. All of them were raised Morman and still profess a strong faith and understanding. While none had served in the military, they had all traveled to many places around the world, most recently returning a couple of weeks ago from Uganda.

With the understanding that we were all present to highlight how this amazing dog, Mike & of course Iris, have impacted my life, we were able to draw the connections to how they touch so much more. Topics that we discussed in the interview brought out many emotions. How the editing happens and all the B-roll of Mike & I doing what we do gets put together will be fascinating to see. Being the first time a professional team has taken on a project including us has us waiting with baited breath. I hope some of the beach scenes where Mike & I got to play out in the sand get to make the final cut. You will all love the time that I nose dived into the sand and Mike went right to the alarm because I was on the ground. (I doubt that will make it)

OK, enough about the time in CA, let discuss the flight. Over the years many of you have seen that I attempt to advocate for people when put in adverse situations. American Airlines, more than any other airline, has had complaints against them from people with service dogs that I have seen. Now I will stand up for both sides quite often because rarely is something as it is portrayed in print or on the internet. Well, the production company made my flight arrangements on American Airlines, so I was prepared for possible issues. The good news is that we were treated correctly. AA had been given the wrong info when making the reservations, but this was very quickly rectified when checking-in for the first time. When we stepped onto the airplane, we had an opportunity to explain the ADA to one of the flight crew that wanted to know a few things.

One of the most important things learned here by me is that knowledge is always the key to making things run smoothly. Many understand the ADA today, but they fail to realize there are rules governing aviation that augment the ADA. Here is a part of the write up "Air carriers must provide disabled passengers with boarding assistance if needed. They are also required to make sure that terminals are accessible to all passengers including those with wheelchairs. In addition, disabled passengers have the right to fly with their service animals free of charge. Generally, carriers must allow the service animal to sit with the passenger. In such cases, persons with disabilities generally don't have to provide documentation about their service animal prior to their flight, except in situations involving an eight hour or longer flight or an emotional support or psychiatric service animal." 

So what does all that mean and why am I taking the time to mention it here? Well often Veterans receive service dogs for PTSD and a myriad of other things but when asked they always seem to mention PTSD and forget the other things. TSA and Airlines are schooled on the keywords of emotional support or psychiatric service animals when you mention them you fall into that category. If you have a service dog that does a multiple task such as balance, seizure, hearing or any other issues along with PTSD, why would you want to bring undue stressors into the mix by only mentioning PTSD to the airline? My goal is to educate here. Understanding the system and how they operate makes it much easier to navigate.

So ending this blog for this week all I ask is that we all take the time to research and go in fully aware that while the laws of this land protect us we also have to help those who have been asked to enforce and interpret those laws. Most of all kindness and understanding when dealing with everyone makes life much easier for all involved. I have to remember I am the only person I can change and I can make a difference in how others deal with me!

Here is a link on Facebook to see a "Live Video"

Thursday, December 1, 2016

It's December already?

 As the last month of 2016 arrives today it seems a great day to reflect on the past year with all the changes and also a perfect opportunity to look forward. As American's we have been afforded so many opportunities that most people appear to take for granted today. My travels result in putting me in front of many different people often seeing sides of this great nation that I have not experienced prior. I would like to say that what I see gives me hope, but that would not be the whole truth.

There are so many new experiences that I continue to have on a daily basis, trying to write about them all is one of the hardest things to keep track of in my log. Not a day goes by while inventorying my actions and interactions with people to see how I could have been a better person, and I am amazed by how other people show me God's grace in dealing with me. I find that one of my biggest problems is that I fail to hold a light to same God that carries me so often when I do not have the strength, courage, and understanding to get through the daily situations called life. Through reflection, I have been awarded a small understanding of the grace others carry and share so freely, but it is this quiet time where I also see my stepping in the way of often of allowing others to be the windows and mirrors that God has placed here on earth for me.

The mission of supporting Veterans and others which I happen to be driven towards over the past years continues to kick into high gear with new opportunities. This week alone a call came in from a company in CA that wants to do a couple of videos focusing on the bond between the service dog and myself. I will have an opportunity to share the dark times that I went through before getting Iris in my life and how life without a service dog would be unimaginable. This medium is professionally produced, marketed and will be used to help so many people I am overjoyed to be a part of it.

Mike & I will be flying out to CA for this particular trip which will be fun. Mike has not done a whole lot of flying so it should be interesting given his large size and the small size of today's commercial airliners. For sure he and I will make it work since I have seen him crawl into spaces I would never have expected an animal of his size to fit into let alone be comfortable.

On another note, I have to give a shout out to Jan Roberta & the Stitch Chicks Quilts of Valor Group of Eastern CT for honoring Mike and I while we were visiting over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. The pictures in this blog are of the amazing quilts they stitched up and then presented to us at the Norwich, CT VFW. It was a great afternoon for all of us because Mike and I were able to explain about Service Dogs to some Veterans and the "Stitch Chicks" allowing me to carry on my mission while attempting to be humble and accept their beautiful gift to me.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Busy Time's!!!

As we all move forward during these "Busy Times" I can't help but think to myself how amazing my life has been so far. When I was younger I moved with a purpose, or so I thought, from one fire to another putting out emergencies as they happened. Never realizing how my input was actually just part of the picture. To me it was the world, I knew I was part of a bigger world don't get me wrong, I just didn't recognize it as I was experiencing life.

We all are so self-important! We look at things through our rose glasses or our own little crystal balls based on how we see or feel about particular things that directly affect us. Some of us even believe that we can even tell you what is going to happen in the future, just watch the TV for an hour or two and wow you will realize that the world is going to be a terrible place because ... or it will now be a much better place because... all based off our own needs and wants. It's almost comical to think back to simpler times when we had to wait to find out results and formulate our opinions.

Trump won the Presidential race here in the good ole US of A., and now in the past 24 hours I have seen many parents who "all on their own have had to develop a way to explain to their child or children how love lost and Hate won." I am not a huge fan of either candidate but really? Talk about drinking the cool aide, people we need to come to grips with the fact that we live in a republic where every four years we vote to have a new president or re-elect the one we have if that is an option. To say things such as the quote I said is the hate being pushed forward not trying to create an atmosphere of peace and harmony that is for sure.

We the people, the citizens of America, are the ones that will create the harmony and peace. Now for the real reason for this particular blog. Since the last entry I have been touched in ways, I never dreamed of by the people of this country. One at a time I have had interactions with individuals in grocery stores, on the street, and in the hospitals. To say that my heart has been opened to new thinking and new hope is downplaying the ways God has revealed himself to me. There has not been a day that has gone by that I have not been approached by someone wanting to know more about Mike. Now I know that happens all the time, but this has been different to the core. These people don't just ask questions they want to open up to me and share life stories. I have had people stop and want to pray with me about the path that we are on and they are on. No, I am not a Preacher, and it does make me uncomfortable often to be put in that place where I am being used to open hearts.

I've always said the mission God has given me is to carry the message to other veterans, and misfits like me that there is hope. What I did not realize is that we are all misfits in one way or another. I was in the VA undergoing some test and a doctor that had recently moved to the same area I am hanging in currently was opening up to me, so we talked for much longer than the average time allotted by the system. After all was done and said, the doctor looked at me and said I feel the need to ask if you will pray with me, now realize this is a government facility where things like that can get people fired. We prayed and shed a few tears a left better people. What I am trying to point out here is these are all one on one interactions with another human being. Nothing to do with race religion color or politics just eyes to eye heart to heart. We as a people have forgotten or have pushed aside the reason we all formed communities in the first place. That interaction between individuals grows exponentially like wildfire just like that hate and prejudice that we all seem to be talking about but doing nothing to rebuke.

We don't fix systemic issues like racism hate and other problems like them by yelling and screaming all of our focus on the negative. We have to concentrate on the love and joy each, and every one of us has to offer to each other. We have to become a nation of communities by becoming a nation of we's. What we focus on grows what we don't goes away it is simple logistics. So for all of you wondering how to talk to your kids or yourself in the mirror, try telling yourself to love yourself and see how many more people want to hang out with the loving you! I know that I prefer to be around people that want to profess positive over negative any day!

Let's make this nation great again! It's built on some incredible values we just need to dust them off and put them into action. Action, Positive Action is the key to Positive Living.

SoapBox Off.