My Side of Heaven

Even in my dreams you take my hand and lead me to places where words tumble from a secret place.

You decorate and dazzle me with brilliant color and velvet texture. Falling leaves I can feel under my bare feet.

I am standing in the middle of my favorite Autumn and you know this.

“They don’t crinkle,” I say, and you ease me down until we’re lying next to each other in a blanket of color.

You gather bunches and crush them gently in the air. I smile at the crisp, cool sound and watch you carefully as you roll sideways, balance on your arm, and smile down at me,

“Tell me where you’ve been, love.”

I think of all the lost roads, and empty eyes,

of the long flights and dark corners,

and lonely rooms,

of all the change and turns into

places where things fall away, and fall apart,

and the hallways where coming undone and being uncovered

break hearts and shatter dreams

 of all the paths I’ve taken to live in faith

 how I’ve been lost in the heavy work and sorrow,

and witness

to all the pain

and to the healing that comes with surrender,

and I wonder about forgiveness, for they know not what they do

and how to give away

The joy you fill me with each day

on my side of Heaven,

and you hear this even though I don’t speak a word until I say,

“I’ve been letting go of heavy things

and I’ve been healing

spirits here and there.

Sometimes my own, sometimes another.

and tending to souls, and listening to hearts,

I can hear unspoken fears

and I address my own

and I’ve finally begun to exhale, and to breath in, and I’m learning

how to let go of so many heavy things.

But mostly…

I’ve been on my way here.

 

 

Lynnette Bukowski © 2019

The dream is real… and I love you

Love, Steve

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.

God’s Vision

Love Never Fails

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.

#LoveNeverFails #BelieveInLove

L.J. Bukowski, All Rights Reserved © 2018

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Lessons in Cadmium Red

When my father died, I learned the value of heritage. When I was assaulted, I learned I was so much more than my body. When my young friend took his own life, I learned forgiveness. When my unborn babies died, I learned a boundless capacity for love. And when my husband died, I learned that my life was blessed. Of course, I did not recognize any of these lessons until long after the experience had passed.

This is the story of one life lesson…

At midnight on my 45th birthday I was knee deep into a bottle of Ménage à Trois wine and fascinated with my birthday gifts – tubes of oil paint and soft sable brushes. I dipped one brush into my favorite color – Cadmium Red – and made one long curved brush stroke. Proud, I held up the canvas and said, “Look at how beautiful! What does it remind you of?”  Cadmium Red Poppies

Steve looked at the canvas for a long serious moment and said, “My extraordinary patience… and the audaciousness of you.”

“Huh… I’m not sure you and the word patience belong in the same sentence. But I’ll give you extraordinary,” I paused, slightly confused, “Also, when I asked the question, I was thinking of those red poppies in the pasture.”

“I know.” His face was partially hidden behind a book, but I saw the grin in his eyes, “Think back… that exact flavor of red, o’dark-thirty, twenty years ago…”

“Oh.” I poured another glass of wine.

We spent the rest of the night wrapped up in memories. Specifically, this one:

I had not seen or talked with Steve for three months, so at 4:00 in the morning when he woke me from a sound sleep to let me know he was home, I did exactly what was expected; I rolled over, stuck my hand under my pillow and mumbled, “Forty-five, finger on trigger… you feeling lucky tonight?”

He said, “That’s my girl.”

Years earlier, we agreed on this exchange just in case it was not him sitting on the edge of the bed. The truth is I always knew it was him. His presence changed the air. But once, just after we were married, he returned home in the middle of the night and met the wrong end of a shotgun at the bedroom door.

I do not like to be scared. He did not relish being shot. Fair is fair.

Correct verbal response received, I welcomed him home, got up and made coffee and in hushed tones told him about the moments I saved.

“Sheri took her first steps, Stephen discovered baseball and Lego’s, I jerry-rigged the bathtub faucet to work around the stuffed Lego piece I could not dislodge, I was hired to ghostwrite for a psychologist, and… an 18 year old Danish Au Pair is asleep in the guest bedroom.”

He held his coffee cup suspended midway between the counter and his mouth and asked, “What’s asleep in the guest bedroom?”

Before I could explain further, the 5 foot 11 inches, legs-up-to-her-ample-chest, blue-eyed-blonde Hella, sauntered into the family room wearing only a Cadmium red tank top and matching bikini underwear. She stopped in front of him, did a full model’s pivot, placed her hands on her hips and said, “I am Hella. You are Steve, yes?”

Steve glanced at her, swiveled on his stool, leaned across the bar until his face was inches from mine and whispered, “You are the finest woman in the universe. Now that you know that, I’m going to kill you, slowly. What the fuck?” Then he turned back around and without preamble said, “Go put some clothes on. Now!”

It was the beginning of a hate-hate relationship between the two of them that lasted just over two months.

I should mention here that Steve did not ever mince words, his normal voice was at a volume just under a roar, and he did not flirt with women if I was anywhere in the vicinity.  He was both a gentleman and very good looking, so there was never any shortage of women trying to turn his head. But his head never turned because I am who I am and he was who he was. You can doubt that if you wish, but there truly are men and women who do not stray.

That said, I took a moment to absorb what I’d just witnessed: A young, beautiful woman had just presented herself to my husband as though I had moved her in solely for his pleasure. I gave the unsettling development half a thought and then dismissed the behavior as a cultural difference. I tend to be an optimist. Steve was a realist. I took a deep breath and explained why she was now in our home.

Hella had come to America two months earlier as part of an Au Pair program. I was told she wanted to increase her English skills, help with housework and provide child care in exchange for room and board. What wasn’t perfect about that? I needed someone to play with the kids while I was writing and we could not afford a babysitter. We could help her, she could help us. And okay, details were lacking as to why she did not get along with her first American family, but our neighbors – sponsors of many of these young ladies – asked for my help.

Steve’s sigh was room deep, “Babe… we need to talk about that “help” thing you have and… I do not think she’s here for the same reason you think she’s here.”

“Maybe not, but can we give it a try?”

He rubbed a hand over his face, gave me a weary smile and said, “Yes, we’ll give it a try.

Steve told me once that coming home was often more adventurous than his day job. I took it as a compliment. In reality, it was a testament of his fortitude.

I’ll admit this now. I used to collect people. Other folks collect coffee mugs or teaspoons. Not me. I amassed people who asked for my help without weighing who they were, where they came from or what they wanted from me. In the beginning, Steve was charmed by this quirk, then exasperated, and finally, resigned. Out of necessity, he became my scoundrel detector and I counted on his keen ability to “sense” a person’s demeanor and motive in minutes. I had this gift too, but I leaned toward giving scoundrels a chance. When Steve intervened, they were sent on their way before I had time to protest.

This worked well when he was home. Not so much when he was away.

Hella’s stay with us became a battle of wits and wills. She did not like housework, enjoyed cooking even less and during her third week in our home, she lost Sheri. Granted, Sheri was a pistol, but to this day I am not sure how a baby wearing only diapers can open the front door, cross a busy street and manage to toddle four blocks from home without a caregiver noticing her absence. Apparently, Sheri wanted a cookie and was mercifully intercepted by a kind neighbor who had both a cookie and my number, which is how I found out she’d gone missing.

I relieved Hella that day from all duties having to do with our children and, much to Steve’s delight; I set about working with her sponsors to have her sent home. It would take four more weeks.

bags packedIn all fairness, I still believe Hella was essentially a good girl, but terribly misled by two of her Au Pair peers. They advised her that American men tended to be weak and malleable. So, for girls who wanted to stay in America, but did not want to watch children, clean house or cook, the game plan was to win the man’s affections and thereby have all their wants and needs fulfilled. Wants and needs included an established man, a car to drive, money to shop and no rules and curfews.

When she finally broke down and admitted the game plan to both of us, Hella’s behavior made more sense, but I had to admit how badly I’d been duped.

Righteously, Steve only rubbed it in for the next twenty years.

It took me that long to learn how to balance my unrestrained capacity to see good in people with my own gift of discernment. And longer still, to notice that no matter how outrageous, traumatizing, unexpected, or agonizing, every experience we live through teaches us a lesson about ourselves or others.

How absolutely blessed I am to have been cherished by a man who knew my heart, endured my lessons and loved me still.

Lynnette Bukowski © 2013