This is a story of encouragement and dreams alive and gratitude, but I need to take you down into the dirty with me before we climb back out and see the light.
I woke up this morning with three hours of sleep and money on my mind. When I’m overwhelmed, I pray first and then get to work on details. But the details today turned into another day of figuring out just how I’m going to stretch the checking account to pay property taxes due in a few weeks. This is always where my frustration starts to build.
I don’t know if every other non-profit in this city receives a break on property taxes, but we don’t. I do know there is an application process in place which goes before the city council and is rarely denied. I applied for a partial exemption from property taxes three years ago and my application was tossed. Not denied,simply tossed out and not heard before the council because one city council member doesn’t like me or what I do. I know this to be true because she rudely dismissed me and my vision for LZ-Grace in front of my daughter and mother across a meeting table, and a few months later had my application for property tax partial exemption removed from the city council agenda moments before I was to present my case. Apparently, I can house and feed farm-workers who help farm the land, but welcoming, feeding and nurturing combat SOF warriors as they decompress from war and trauma on ARP farmland was out of line. And don’t get me wrong, I don’ object to paying taxes. I object to unfairness and hidden agendas. I did have my say in front of council in 2015, but to no avail. Attorneys I reached out to afterward told me to keep my head down, my mouth shut and pay. And not to bother appealing the “toss out” or request tax exemption again because the city’s attorneys and Henley will break me.
Fair enough, except I’m me and a Frogman’s widow and that’s not how I get broken.
Most importantly, God didn’t see it quite the way the attorneys did and so each and every six months when I have to scramble to come up with nearly $7K now, I do. And we farm. Horses and hops and hope and organic vegetables that we harvest and eat. We farm and we play and we rest and we pray and we discover healing and we speak life into loss and we love. On ARP farmland.
I know I shouldn’t be, but I’m a little bitter about entrenched politicians and their attitudes. I’m working on it.
I did take a moment to thank God for the generous souls who have donated funds, stood fast in prayer and supplied grants to ensure that we continue to grow and serve. The dream is real because the entire family stepped up, the community around us put on their work boots, an Architect, Scouts and Dominion VA Power folks, Veterans and Active Duty, Firefighters, Police Officers, Deputy Sheriff’s, Realtors and neighbors surrounded us with help and dedication and grace. Amen.
Then I climbed back down into my pity pot and sloshed around, cried, worried, paid more attention to interruptions then details, got snappy with the dogs, irritated with my healing broken leg and ended up chucking all my work aside to mindlessly scroll through Facebook.
This is where He finds me.
Memories with photos and write ups from four years ago today. On November 16, 2014, 253 people joined me and my family for the Dedication and Blessing of LZ-Grace. The Patriot Guard arrived with American Flags in all their glory, esteemed speakers flew in from across the country and neighboring states to speak. Music played. The choir sang. The Warriors Fire-Pit, built by an Eagle Scout and his Troop, was lit for the first time. Prayers were said. Brothers reunited. On that day, five months after we moved in, most of the buildings were still in disrepair, the barn was empty, the fences were falling down, the weeds were out of control, and I had no earthly idea how I was going to pay for all that needed to be done and take care of our warriors, but none of that mattered because we all gathered for a most extraordinary day of hope and vision and life spoken into this sacred land.
As of today, November 16, 2018 – exactly four years from the Dedication and Blessing and 3.5 years since we opened our doors – we have welcomed 3,063 souls to the healing peace of LZ-Grace (1,098 individuals on site, 98 individuals remotely and 1,876 families and groups).
It was hard, hard work and painful lessons, but we ended most days with joy. Frustration and bitterness have no place in these blessings.
Perhaps someday I’ll return to the city, new application in hand and be granted relief, but for today, I’ll stand in gratitude for the blessings that we’ve been given and let God work out the details with politicians who can dislike me and strong arm me, but have no say so over peace and grace and precious souls who come here – to the farm – as visitors and leave as beloved family.
Like a child being gently disciplined, I am reminded this morning that while paying the bills on time and keeping track of numbers is necessary, it is not my most important concern. My job is to be a good steward of and nurture the most fundamental part of our mission: peace and renewal for an individual’s body,mind, soul and spirit. To be a witness to these changes in individuals, up close and in myriad ways, is miraculous. Each person we meet here and talk to remotely brings an experience that encourages and teaches. We are still at war,but for a time – at a home away from home – on a farm – a life is saved, a marriage strengthens, a family blossoms, a career stays on course or a supported transition takes flight.
Miraculous is the only solid form of measurement we need.
And this note on the fridge. Because the dream is real…and I love you.
This is God’s Vision. Human hands can not shut it down.
Each and every year we were married – no matter where he was in the world – Steve sent me roses on HIS birthday.
The odd tradition began after our first year of marriage. He was away on a “work trip” and after a particularly ugly over-the-phone argument, I received two dozen roses with a card: “I’m such a jerk and I’m sorry, but you managed to love me for another 365! so Happy Birthday to me. I pray you love me forever. I will you.”
On July 24, 2010, a month and three days after his death, I received two dozen roses with a lovely note professing his forever love and thanking me yet again for loving him another 365. I thought it was just a cruel twist… something he arranged weeks before, and the florist, not knowing he died on June 21, followed through with delivery.
But each and every year since his death I continue to receive two dozen roses, on or near his birthday, and always with a note full of words germane to what I’m struggling with or going through at the time.
I woke this morning as I do every morning – missing Steve. I wished him a happy earth birthday and blessed his constant presence around me. Sadly, I thought, this will be the year the flowers stop because the SEAL Brother I believed responsible for keeping Steve’s birthday flowers coming (even though Brian adamantly denied it when I asked three years ago), passed away after a long struggle with cancer in early June of this year.
Somehow though, the miracle of Roses from Heaven continues. On this day, with roads flooded and unrelenting rain in Virginia Beach – July 24, 2018 – Steve’s birthday and 123 days after I broke my leg so badly that surgery required plates and rods and pins to put me back together, two dozen beautiful roses were delivered with a timely and loving and encouraging note. I mention my injury because ~ Heaven Knows ~ I am just now humbly, ungracefully, learning how to walk again – step by painful step.
And yes, I love him forever on earth and in Heaven and with each step by every new difficult step. My body is temporarily broken, but I am renewed each year with faith and strength beyond my wildest dreams.
L.J. Bukowski, All Rights Reserved © 2018
Most of my slightly ‘off’ ideas start with a spark of intrigue and/or rebellion, wander around trails in my head, pause for rest, pause for prayer, and then take off like I’m driving a Maserati down The Stelvio pass in Italy.
This particular idea took hold one morning after I opened and read eleven different ‘Christmas Letters’ from friends and family near and far. Well before the social media craze, I always looked forward to these letters (and still do), but this year – 1987 – I noticed a pattern: Everyone wrote about the ‘perfect’ and left out the ‘real’. Eleven times that morning I read about another year of blissfully perfect marriage, and how they magically afforded a new house above their pay grade in a perfect neighborhood where all their perfect children were enrolled in perfect schools making perfect grades in three different languages and were perfect stars of the spare-time sport, club or troop the perfect parents drove them to in the brand new perfect car?
And there I sat with a cup of lukewarm coffee at a kitchen table dotted with sticky something and bread crumbs swirled into a rather artistic pattern by a 7-year old. His version of “wiping down the table after dinner” chore. Here was my pause. How could I not smile? And I was grateful for the moments of joy in our adorable-as-hell (artistically cleaned) rental home on Orange Avenue in Coronado, which we could barely afford, and which may or may not have been as a result of the brand-new Raleigh Tour de’ France worthy bicycle for Steve to ride to work, because… priorities.
Clearly, we lived in an alternate universe: Sort of broke, artistically clean and mostly happy. We had a lot of ‘real’ going on. I’ll even admit here that my sweatshirt was on inside-out and my feet were frozen, but finding a warm pair of socks meant opening the dryer, which would wake up the dog and then the kids and my perfect writing moment would be lost. Sticky elbows and cold feet it was, as I raced my pen across paper.
And so, the annual Bukszoo’s Twisted Cheer was born.
I rhymed our ‘real’ (and my opinions) for 22 years, from 1987 to January 2010. I stopped writing it the year Steve died, but I can still see him grinning as he read every word and pretended to be annoyed with my candor.
I tripped across my last poem a few days ago and decided to share our last ‘real’ to honor the memory of a man who made everything seem perfect in an imperfect world.
Merry Christmas to all and May Your New Year Delight You Daily….
HAPPY YEAR! (2010)
Four days after Christmas and all ‘round the house, ALL our creatures are crazy, yes, even the mouse,
Well, we don’t have a mouse, but I swear if we did, he’d be out chasing barn cats or in line to be fed.
The horses are neighing, one dog’s set on “bark”, thank God I have coffee and I can type in the dark,
At four in the morning, should the world not be calm? Welcome to Un-Ranch where it often goes wrong.
Hope your Merry’s still on and your Season’s still Bright, ‘round the world and in North Carolina,
No surprise here, I’m tardy again… c’est la vie… so Happy New Year from our little Norlina,
Go pour a cognac and take off your boots…’tis the time for the Zoo’s twisted cheer,
Of course if you’re saving up for massive tax hikes, I’ll understand if you just pop open a beer.
After twenty-plus houses in thirty-three years, it’s slightly shocking that we’re still on
But the “Money Pit” here is beginning to blossom, we’re no longer in the pack-transfer mode.
I think five years is planted, or at least digging in, the Zoo’s nearly from “around here” these days,
In this small country town full of big hearted folks, who don’t seem to mind much our strange ways.
The Terrorist and I (I meant Veteran, oh my) have grown quite fond of this wide open space,
I’m lobbying right now for a Ted Nugent bunker, a water board and a few cans of mace.
Oh my gosh, I’m just joking – or maybe I’m not – but either way I’ll be perfectly clear,
If the “O” and his gang keep maligning our Troops, it’s the moms and wives they should fear.
We rarely give in and we never give up and if we rallied they’d get down on their knees,
And that “apology tour” would be to all Troops, who still stand up for this Land of the Free.
Really, you thought I’d skip politics this year? au contraire! Soap Box up and I’m full of glee,
Stewart! the war on terror is at our collective front doors, I think we’re stuck with that bastard ennui.
Still, I’m encouraged because by this time next year, they’ll run out of U.S. dollars to spend,
Hand-outs will stop and folks will stand up and we’ll take a look around DC’s land of pretend.
My liberal friends think I’m just being mean, but I’m really up for that Change and that Hope
Case in point, I hope to fire both sides of the Senate and House, and exChange Mr. Ivy-League bloke.
I’m calling up farmers, blue collar, small business, retired military who still employ common sense,
No Dems or Repubs, just real people, like us, who know the difference between a Trillion and Cents.
For those who are new to my seasonal cheer, I live out loud and don’t edit my views,
A short pause to disclose – my opinions are not necessarily those – shared by the entire Zoo.
Good thing Steve retired from gov contracts this year, now he works for himself and I don’t.
Turns out I’m a bit challenged with simple directions, well… it’s not that I can’t, I just won’t.
What difference does it make if I’m off by an inch, or I like to read while I hold up the wood?
Apparently a lot, ‘cause I’ve been fired on the spot, more times than I’ll admit or probably should.
Still, I nearly perfected my tractor driving skills, but that went south when I got stuck in the muck,
And though Steve was real peachy about getting me out, I concede that my tractor skills suck.
Between bugging dear Aaron on how he feels day to day, and following drill husband around,
They both cried, “Get lost!” so I applied for a job, and now I work for a Law Firm in town.
And don’t tell a soul, but the “hold-this-up gal” finds her respite when she drives off
and work starts,
Steve cleans and he shops and renovates all day long, and that damn tractor can sit where it’s parked.
For fun we ride horses, Big Ozzie and Zeus and let me tell you I’ve learned a lesson this time,
As in life, here’s a hint, keep your butt in the saddle, straight and balanced, it will work out just fine.
I still write late at night or by dawn’s early light and if I’m lucky, I’ll read a book from page one,
Our lively life is chockfull but sublime, and I can prove it with a semi-happy husband and son.
Speaking of Aaron, he’s doing quite well, takes life by moments and that’s the mystery of Grace,
He’s not much for schedules, or sleeping, or crowds, but at the end of the day finds his place.
Indeed he’s been gifted with an eye for the “lens”, taking photos that he posts on the web,
And this Spring he looks forward to a School for the Arts, we might just be talking “celeb”.
He still loves Euro Soccer and gaming ‘til dawn, and if we’re lucky we see him each night,
My best part of each day is coming home to hear him say, “Hey Mom, I was thinking, I might…”
Without really knowing, he teaches us forward — without fear, or “why me” or fuss,
“Grace meets us wherever we are, but does not ever leave us where it found us.” LaMott
Our Sheri girl’s here, she flew in Christmas Eve, for ten days she’ll be home with the Zoo,
Cross Country from Redding, California that is, raving hair and her dad’s eyes of blue.
The gal is so busy working three jobs at once, we normally chat late at night using “Skype”,
But it’s some kind of fun when we write on the run, even better that we can sleep while we type.
Have you heard about Transformational Development Agency (TDA) or Dr. Ayoade Alakija, CEO?
You will now – ‘cause Sheri’s her EA this year – and they’re both tootin’ smart, don’t you know.
Check them out (http://www.tdaafrica.com) and all that they do, it’s extraordinary, real life-changing stuff,
In addition, she’s Admin for Bethel’s Healing Room, as though changing the world ain’t enough.
Croatia, Iowa, San Fran and L.A., the travel bug must be passed on in genes,
But the stories she’ll tell, to her babies one day, will be full of delight and great scenes!
In between trips she works behind cameras and crew, filming concerts or great speaking minds,
I pity the poor fellow who asks her out on a date, because quite frankly she doesn’t have time!
Ipak mi kurzirati svjetski dan na pronaći ljepota , mi morati prijenos sa nas ili mi nađi prema ne.
Charlottesville’s still home for Stephen and Shawna, although life’s changing at a pace beyond fast,
They sold their spec house on a wing and a prayer, in the midst of the real estate crash.
Some call it luck, but it was undeniably skill, and perseverance can beat odds any day,
Between school and two jobs and Kavella, the cute, they still manage to fit time in to play.
The future holds all kinds of new and unknown and believe me these two like to go,
Soon they’ll be surfing big waves in Hawaii, or boarding slopes in the deep Oregon snow.
Whatever they dream, I know they can do, it’s an extra blessing bestowed to our crew,
I pray 2010 is an easier year, full of favor and life dreams anew.
Don’t fall off your chair, I finally finished my book, I’m now in “edits” per the agent from hell (joking…Jae),
If my brain stays intact and those red marks turn black, I just might have a novel to sell!
Eight years, more or less, I’ve been birthing this thing, full of mystery, suspense and intrigue,
Don’t worry a bit, I’ve changed your names and events, it’s all hidden in elaborate word weave.
It’s all fiction, I swear, as does the “team” — the asylum of nuts in my mind,
Perhaps this time next year, if I’m not blacklisted or jailed, I’ll wrap it and send it out signed!
There you have it, my friends, the news of the Zoo… a few opinions thrown in on the sly,
If you need us, just call, we’ll be digging our bunker, so leave a message or just drop on by.
The sun’s coming up and the horses’ a-light, racing shadows across open land,
The pond reflects hints, such a glimmering sight, a few birds chirp to warm up their band.
Trees welcome the wind and dance to a tune I can hear if I just take the time…
And as much as I jest, heaven knows we are blessed, with these moments of life in ’09.
May this New Year Delight You daily.
With Love and Prayers for our troops and their families around the world.
Happy New Year
from the Bukowski Zoo
Norlina, NC 27563
To my politically sensitive, Liberal Friends :
Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, my best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low-stress, non-addictive, gender-neutral celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasion and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all. I also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2010, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make America great. Not to imply that America is necessarily greater than any other country nor the only America in the Western Hemisphere. Also, this wish is made without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith or sexual preference of the wishee. On behalf of my greedy, capitalistic country, I apologize for all real or perceived injustices on any country and take full blame for foreign domestic problems in said countries. To do my part to save the planet, I will show solidarity with you and join your efforts for improving the atmosphere, saving water and saving trees by the following actions: holding my breath one minute each hour, refraining from bathing and eliminating all toilet paper usage.
To all the rest:
A belated Merry Christmas and a just in time Happy New Year
I began once again to dream about the future at 10:02 pm on a Friday night eleven months and 26 days after Steve died. I only know this because at the exact moment I entered the dark barn on our North Carolina farm that evening, a full moon reached in and illuminated only the hands on an old kitchen clock and the rusty nail it hung on.
Restless and angry at God, my intention was to pack boxes in the loft and organize every square inch of life for my children because I was not willing to live through another night. I no longer had time for time, but I did have whiskey, sleeping pills and a spotless house. Our kids were grown, strong and smart. Our dogs and horses and barn cats would love them through this. My papers were in order, our bills were paid off, Steve’s life insurance was in the bank and the only way I was going to see Steve again was to find him where he was. I’d work out the whole mortal sin thing with God once we were face to face and I’d had my say.
There are no words large enough to describe the arrogance and insanity of a grieving heart.
But that damn clock. The precise time hovered over me like a necessary memory I could not quite reach. The woman once known as Lynn would have paused, noticed, waited patiently for the message, or the memory. But I could not find that woman. Frustrated and empty, I stood on the dirt floor of a dark barn until Pretty Girl, our paint mare, sauntered up behind me and rested her big head on my shoulder. I nudged her away. She nickered, nosed her halter off its hook, dropped it on the ground at my feet and stared at me with big eyes.
Two years earlier I was bucked off a Palomino and broke four ribs. In half. I had not climbed onto a horse’s back since. She knew and I knew it, but her energy both softened and emboldened me. I slipped on her halter, made a loose rein from the lead rope and used the barn wall to climb up onto her bare back and fold myself around her.
We walked all seventeen acres of the farm that night, around the ponds, through the trees, past the solid fencing I helped Steve build. I don’t know the exact time I let go of the rains, but it was then that my heart beat wildly with memories, my hands rested on my thighs, my body gave in to the movement and all the feelings and dreams of the woman known as Lynn returned to my mind and my soul.
I still do not know why God waits until we’re on the edge. I do know his timing is impeccable and it is not my imagination that this beautiful horse, who came to us the year before with the name of “Teacher”, would pause at precise moments, stand perfectly still to let me cry, catch my breath and begin again to dream.
I just had to let go of the reins.
When my mother was a child she used to escape to her “rock in the sky” and dream. Usually about words. And if you’ve ever read her writing (www.gracebeyondgrace.com) you would understand how God poured His giant Yes all over that dream.
Fast forward a few decades and God is still pouring out His YES all over her dreams. These pics are part of her “Dream Board” she did maybe 3 or 4 years ago. Before we found this farm. Before we knew how things would go.
Almost every picture on this has come true. We pulled out this dream board and realized how precise some of the photos were – from statues serving as “signs” to the pool surrounded by trees. We knew horses would be involved but certainly didn’t know we’d have a horse farm. Even the veg garden looks like this – wild and full. Most incredibly, there’s a photo (not shown) of some interior guest rooms that weren’t designed by us but incidentally ended up looking EXACTLY like the magazine cut out.
All this to say. DREAM. Dream with God. Make it plain on tablets. Poster boards will do. 🙂
And one more thing, guys, there’s a picture of zebras on this poster. Don’t ask why but the way things are going I’m pretty sure there’s a Zebra in our future. Just sayin’. ~Sheri Bukowski
Sheri wrote this last year toward the end of February. I tripped over it tonight… on purpose, I believe. I needed a bit of grounding and a reminder that all is well and unfolding exactly as it needs to in Divine time. True enough that living another’s dream, even when it encircles my own dream, is a huge responsibility. Reading this tonight reminds me that Steve is still very much here in soul and spirit – prompting, teaching, steering. How fortunate I am.
After two days of water pipes bursting under the house, I tiptoed around this morning listening for gushing water. All quiet. All clear. I tiptoed back through the kitchen checking the view from every window and poured myself a cup of coffee. Suddenly the memory of my father fixing water pipes emerged from light across the room and my body ached with nostalgia. The last Christmas we spent with my dad he spent hours fixing water pipes. As my mind pulled back to the present, my gaze tuned to the land again – backyard frozen, dog runs frozen, barn cat sentry sitting duty at his post in the crack of the door. He would have loved this farm. He would have loved the trees and the creek, the driveway and the deck. He would have cursed the broken fences but merrily stomped his way through the pastures to fix every single one. He dreamed of this.
We are living someone else’s dream and the onus is on us. We must be careful with it. He did not get to walk this property as a flesh-living man would step by step. His presence is ubiquitous and inescapable though, and his spirit fully alive in this place. PEACE is here. Drama is not allowed. Lies are not tolerated. Truth slowly ascends to the surface of souls and weak things are shattered, like glass, the fragility does not go unnoticed. But this place, the place my Father’s presence roams, is a safe place to crack. For in the quiet earth the soul is replenished.
It is a weighty, scary thing to be living someone else’s dream. You want to be worthy of it, worthy of their sweat and blood. You want to be worthy of the inheritance you walk in, the return of their investment. Not everyone has the luxury of living out their dreams on earth.
“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance…God had a better plan for us: that their faith and our faith would come together to make one completed whole, their lives of faith are not complete apart from ours.” (Hebrews 11)
— withLynn Bukowski.
Sheri Bukowski © 2015 All Rights Reserved
In Loving Memory – Extortion 17 Commemorative Cuff designed by LZ-Grace.
A limited number of these custom cuffs were made again exclusively for LZ-Grace (Landing Zone Grace) in loving memory of our 31 heroes killed in action on August 6, 2011.
To ORDER, please visit the donation page at www.lz-grace.com
Direct link: https://secure.qgiv.com/for/lzgll/
Each cuff is hand crafted and made of quality silver and gold plate.
Size: 7” x 11/2”
100% of the proceeds will help to grow LZ-Grace (Landing Zone Grace), a place of respite and renewal for our Special Operation Warriors (from all branches) returning from combat.
LZ-Grace is registered with the IRS as a 501(c)(3) charitable foundation. All donations are tax deductible.
In Loving Memory of Those Who Are Forever Present in Our Lives