What are we thankful for?

It’s that time of year again, when we stop, step back from the weekly grind, and remember what we’re thankful for.
And it just seems fitting that I re-post something I wrote many Thanksgivings ago, because it still fits, and it’s all still very true…

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GRATITUDE

There is a day in this country set aside for giving thanks, yet every day I try to express my
appreciation for life and love and all that comes with it

My heart is full of gratitude for the friends who see me for who I am,
know my heart,      and stand by me as I stand in my truth

And I am grateful for the lessons learned from the disillusionment of
relationships that no longer serve me
and for each step of the unabashed movement toward my    higher purpose

I am grateful for the realizations in the aftermath that
nothing is as it seems
and that sometimes reality is merely an illusion

I am thankful for the liberation that comes with letting go, with no ill will
only appreciation for the time spent on that particular path
remembering that without honest and sincere communication –
the foundation upon which relationships are built        and maintained –
there is no real relationship

I am thankful for a year of dreams realized, of unimagined spiritual moments
shared with those to whom I don’t feel the need to explain

I am thankful for the journey to the mountaintop
for the extraordinarily breathtaking display of fall colors in Vermont
reminders of the beauty that is in and around us
humble reminders to keep open our eyes and our hearts

I give thanks for the compassion felt for those who don’t have the capacity
for those who can’t or won’t open themselves enough to truly love
and for the understanding that no one can love us until they truly love themselves

I am grateful for the true friends who love unconditionally
who love through it all and give of themselves expecting nothing in return

I am beholden to the men in my life who have caused my heart to flutter
and those who mangled it and left it for dead
for either way, they cause me to stop to remember the divine feminine in each of us

And I’m glad for the time I had with the most difficult of men
the ones whose anger and rage taught me what I will and will not tolerate

I thank humankind for the daily doses of pain and heartache that come,
sometimes relentlessly
teaching me, again,
that we all have an unlimited supply of patience, tolerance and love

I am thankful for the growth that comes from leaving behind old hurts
and frustrations and fears
old scars from childhood or wounds from recent battles
because it is in the tearing down that we are built back up

I am thankful for the voices of all humanity, and of those on the other side
who talk to me, in the daylight and in my dreams
whispering the secrets of the universe to me,
knowing I will carry them close to my heart

I am grateful for strangers, who upon approaching, aren’t afraid to make eye contact
who acknowledge the divine in me, as I do in them

I am grateful for the children, the tiny messengers of hope,
who reach inside me and touch my heart and awaken my soul in ways that
bring  me  to  my   knees

I am thankful for the memories of all my friends and enemies, here and on the other
side,
because the time they gave me and the lessons they taught me
will forever be part of me, part of who I am to be

I am thankful for the dark times and the tears that have come in the night
silently slipping out of their bottomless well, reminding me that I’m human

I can’t express enough gratitude for my family, who, though I don’t see them often
remind me of where this journey began, who recognize themselves in me,
as I do in them,
and who remind me of the innate potential in every moment, in every breath

I am grateful that I am never lonely, for there are always words to keep me company
words – the gifts given to us to aid in expressing our truest selves
and I’m grateful for the gift of freedom we have in this country to use those words

I am grateful for music, that sweet universal language that often speaks without words,
in times of intense emotion, reaching in and touching the very core of who we are

I thank the universe for the still, quiet moments
those fragments of time that allow communion with all that is and all that will be

And above all, I am thankful for
trust
and faith
and love
and knowing
for these are the things that sustain me
when all else
. . . . . . . . .. . . . . . .  . . f a l l s
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . a w a y

©Sunny Stephens  /  11-22-07

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Memorial Day – and The Hornet’s Nest

Today I honor the soldiers, the men and women who, without concern for their own safety, march into battle knowing full well that they could be killed at any moment. And for what?

For me. For my family. For my friends. For my freedom…
Memorial Day hotdog with napkins and flag

I honor, too, the families left behind when the soldiers are deployed. Their struggles are just as real. When their loved ones come home, it’s cause for celebration. But when they don’t, the families left behind face the emotional and financial struggles, and the insurmountable grief for a loss so indescribable… I simply can’t imagine it.

Who does that? Who purposely puts their life on the line for us, for America and all that we believe in?

Men and women, young and old, who for whatever reason – in their own hearts and minds – feel it’s the right thing to do…

Are they brave and courageous in ways we’ll never know? Yes.
Are they scared beyond belief? Perhaps.
Are they determined to fight to the death for what they believe? Absolutely.

Troops firing at insurgents by Mike Boettcher(Photo by Mike Boettcher – Afghanistan 2011)

In years gone by, there were other wars, other soldiers who stepped out onto the shores and into the jungles to fight for a cause. Many didn’t come home. And those who did were forever changed, in ways we will never comprehend. To this day, some of them still can’t talk about their experiences…

Today the VA hospitals are filled with the injured and dying. Some injuries are so apparent that we are tempted to look away. We see them on tv – the burns, the scars, the loss of limbs – they seem so far away from our reality. But for the soldier – they live that reality every waking moment of every day, and in their flashbacks and nightmares at night…

How do they ever really get relief from the haunting memories? I don’t know, but I hope they do, somehow, some day…

Somehow, no one in my family was called to serve. I always found that interesting, but I am so grateful. Though I was not directly impacted by losing a loved one to war, the idea of war permeates my mind at times. I rarely watch the news any more, because all the stories seem to be about hatred and violence and killings and war. I often find myself in the quiet, in prayer, asking God to touch the hearts and minds of the terrorists, big and small,  in all nations, and to show them that killing is not the way. I wonder if – in my lifetime – we’ll see an end to war… or if this is really only the beginning of something far worse…

When we walk down the street, we have no idea what may be troubling the people we encounter. And without a uniform, we don’t know how many of those people may have served our country, and sacrificed in order to give us the freedom to walk down that particular street. War isn’t just in a country far away. It impacts us right where we stand.

JR Martinez, Iraq War Veteran, DWT Season 13 winner(J.R Martinez, Iraq War Veteran who was severely injured by roadside bomb.
  He went on to win Dancing With the Stars Season 13)

When we see someone without a limb, we don’t know if they lost it in combat. And when we see other people – seemingly regular people – how do we know they’re not suffering as well? Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) are as real a wound as the loss of an arm or a leg. Injuries to the brain don’t show on the outside, but they can be just as devastating. Just because we can’t see it, that doesn’t mean it’s not real.

In my opinion, the ones most effected by war are the ones with brain injuries. Visible signs of injury tend to evoke compassion and concern, and rightfully so. But what about the soldiers who appear to be “normal” on the outside, with no indication of the torment they’re going through? The remedy isn’t a bandage, or a cast, or surgery to mend the broken bones. How do they get the help and compassion they need, and deserve?

With the VA in the news so much right now, I can’t help but think about all the veterans who are struggling to get help, to find their “new normal.” How can the returning soldiers ever be “normal” again, after enduring and witnessing unspeakable things? And how can we help them?

And what of the soldiers still in combat, on the front lines, defending my right to sit here and write about what I think and what I feel, and post it to the internet for all the world to see? What about them? Will we be ready to help them adjust when they get home?

Soldiers in front of VA hospital

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As I write this, I hear my neighbors talking, out on their patio. They are from Iraq. They fled their homeland, and the only life they ever knew to come here, to provide a fresh start and a safe life for themselves and their daughter, who has special needs.

Though I don’t know them well, I’ve enjoyed watching them adapt to life here. I see the pride with which they keep house, and I feel the sense of relief they have in knowing that they are in a safe, comfortable space. I can’t begin to imagine what they have endured, as the war raged on in their home country. They left it all behind, for freedom and security…

As you sit in your home, reading this, take a good look around. Look at all your stuff, some sentimental items, some treasured keepsakes, some family heirlooms. And your furniture, and favorite books, your big screen tv, and nice comfortable bed…

Could you leave it all behind, and start over in a country where you didn’t know the language or the customs? Would you be too scared to try? What would it take to make you want to leave everything that is familiar to you?

Living room

This family from Iraq reminds me, every day, of how incredibly blessed I am to live in America. Every soldier who has ever fought in any war to protect our way of life is directly responsible for my freedom. Though our way of life may not be perfect, we are a free country. We don’t have a dictator ruling our lives with a heavy hand.

In ongoing battles, far and wide, big and small – some of which the typical American will never know about – the war rages on. And selfless men and women continue to put themselves in harm’s way, knowing they might not make it home. I honor every single one of them, and their families, today, and every day…

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I remember when the movie “Saving Private Ryan” came out. It was the most accurate portrayal of war to date. And it changed me.

Today, a new film makes its debut in select theaters across the country – “The Hornet’s Nest.” I saw that film today, and I encourage all of you to see it. This is not a fictionalized movie, or “based on a true story.” It is real footage of some of the troops in Afghanistan. It is disturbing and enlightening, and it is in-your-face terrifying at times. It is an important film, documenting the hell that the soldiers go through.

Hornets Nest movie poster

When Captain Kevin Mott yells out “Follow me!” his guys do just that – they follow behind him, down rugged terrain, to get to their target, even with gunfire raging all around them. The sound of bullets whizzing past one’s head is nothing like what I’d imagined. And now that I know what it sounds like, I hope to never hear it again…

But the soldiers face that sound, and the heat, and the uncertainty EVERY SINGLE DAY – for us, for our flag, for America and all that we stand for.

At one point, the soldiers were in a 360° firefight. How does one not panic, and just give up? Soldiers don’t. They keep fighting through. And when someone gets hit, they do all they can to get them to safety, and to get them the medical help they need.

To all who have put themselves in harm’s way for us, a mere “Thank you” is not enough… But it’s all I have, and all I can give, sincerely, from the depths of my soul…

And thank you to Mike and Carlos Boettcher, for risking your own lives and embedding yourselves in with the troops to make this film. You have opened my eyes to the harsh reality of war, and I trust that everyone who sees this film will walk away with a better appreciation for our armed forces.

Mike and Carlos Boettcher(Mike and Carlos Boettcher)

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