Founded by Grace…

Everything comes with risk, but when a Warrior lives through war and lands at LZ-Grace, it is to overcome, reconnect to family and community and achieve the peace that comes from within.

When we acknowledge and release what we’ve lived through and find connection with one another, our souls are inspired to hold tight to the edge of the cliff until help arrives; to live on; to use scars as road maps; and to pass strength and experience forward to all the world.

Grace is the voice that calls us to change and the power to pull it off.

LZ-Grace Promotional Video produced, edited and donated by Nanc Waters.

 It is with the love and generosity of our kind supporters that LZ-Grace Warriors Retreat can make a difference and begin the healing process.

http://www.lz-grace.com

Lynnette Bukowski All rights reserved ©2014

Unstoppable Souls

There will always be a reason why you meet people. Either you need them to change your life, or you are the one who will change theirs.

Firey WomanThe story I’m about to tell you is true. It is the story about an inspirational man, his equally inspiring and beautiful wife, and his son, William, who surpasses all of us with his will to overcome, thrive and live.

None of the names have been changed to protect the innocent or the guilty. The guilty would be me. I’d like a pass because I was in mourning, but the truth is, that’s bullshit. Each of us decides every day to live or give up, to make excuses or take responsibility. It sucks that the love of my life died on me. I’m still a little mad about it.

The difference now is this: I no longer use his death as an excuse, but as my driving force.

Exactly a year and a half after Steve died; I packed up my home for the 22nd time in 34 years and moved to Virginia Beach to feel something familiar around me. I don’t have young Navy SEALs traipsing through my house at all hours like I used to, but the community of Steve’s living Brothers is close enough to me here that I feel their comfort. Still, less than a year ago I was still in a deep fog, barely unpacked and still driving around from point A to point B without knowing how I left or why I arrived.

On one such day while driving down Virginia Beach Boulevard, I heard a distinct recognizable voice telling me to turn and check out a small gym close to the corner of Great Neck. I made a U-turn, pulled into a parking space and laughed aloud at the (then) name of the gym: “Face the Pain”.  Clearly, Steve lived (and died) for sarcasm. Ironically, had I not heard his voice on that day – at that exact moment – I would not have turned, I would never have noticed the gym, and I would not have met Billy Yancey.

You should probably know that for 31 years Steve was my built in personal trainer. He designed programs to suit me, challenge me and piss me off. I never trained exactly the way he thought I should, but he never stopped believing in me or my abilities and to thank him for that faith, I (mostly) did what I was told. I was not, however, his BUD/S student and I made that clear in no uncertain terms every chance I got, which somehow encouraged him to buy a stupid little bell and taunt me with it. I admit here and now that I may have caused a certain “bell” to fly across the room a dozen hundred times or so, but I digress…

The ugly truth is this: When Steve died, I quit everything. I was breathing, barely, and I would have stopped that too if I could have figured out a way to do it without hurting my children. I lost my mind and I didn’t care. I lost my health, my magic and my self. I didn’t care. Grief is a skilled liar and I came to believe there was no point to anything. I sat down and did not move for an entire year believing that Steve was gone and I was done. Purposefully, I paid no attention to my health. I gained “mourning weight” and a “screw it” attitude and I did not care.

And then I met “Mr. Pain,” a.k.a. Billy Yancey. Billy is the creator of Anabo, the owner of Anabo Nutrition and Fitness and my friend — not always an easy task. Since that fateful day, I have come to know him as a stellar husband, an extraordinary Papa, and yet another man in my life who takes absolutely not one ounce of shit from me, which is fairly unbelievable because I can hand it out with mighty force.

I am now back to being a healthy, beautiful woman with all of my magic and self  Determined_Woman.jpg_preview_327x500right where it needs to be.  And I maintain bragging rights because damn, even in death, Steve knows how to pick ’em.

Billy is no ordinary man and no ordinary personal trainer.

Meet Billy Yancey, #2 Corner-back, United States Naval Academy. During his Navy football days he had three (3) interceptions against the University of Toledo and one (1) against the Quarter Back of Notre Dame, Rick Mirer, at Giants Stadium.

I hear there’s a Navy – Air Force game tomorrow, October 5, 2013 and it’s on! I thought this might be an appropriate time to brag about my personal coach.

Billy #2

FEAR THE GOAT!

FEAR THE PAIN!

And oh yes, did I mention he was also Mr. Virginia 1999.

Billy Mr. Virginia 1999

So damn glad to know this man, his gorgeous wife, Lisa, and his beautiful son, William.

Be inspired by William here: http://www.wavy.com/news/local/va-beach/virginia-beach-boy-defies-the-odds#.Uk8R2_pTLIg.email

http://www.zombierunva.com – Register and run to support William!

And… GOOOOOOOOO NAVY!!!!!!

If you are in Virginia Beach and you need a workout program that will kick your butt backwards, forwards and sideways… check out Anabo Nutrition and Fitness Gym at the Corner of Great Neck and Virginia Beach Boulevard. For more information contact Billy@TheAnabo.com or open this flyer: [ANABO – Billy Yancey]

 By Lynnette Bukowski © October 4, 2013

#DancesInMud ~~ Rainy Morning Letters #1091

pink muddy toesIt is Sunday morning nearly three years after your death and I am standing at the kitchen window of a plantation house watching you climb a 100 foot pine tree to cut a branch that hangs over the parked truck in the driveway. You’ve had enough of the dripping sap, I suppose. I murmur through the glass, “I could move the truck…” and you hear me because you turn and look, purse your lips, raise one eyebrow and pierce me with those brilliant blue eyes.

This is your fastidious look and it makes me laugh. We both know that if I move the truck today, the branch will still hang over the driveway, the sap will still drip and I will inevitably forget and park the truck exactly there again. Point made, you climb higher.

The rain begins slowly; fine drops that make the moss on the live oaks stir. I sip my coffee so close to the window that the steam swirls onto the glass and fogs my vision. You are nearly there – at the offending branch – bolo knife dangling from your thigh. I’m sure in this moment that the same bolo knife is under my bed, but I let the thought come and go because the rain is falling in solid sheets now and I am worried about you so high up without ropes.

An impatient sigh floats down and you mouth the words, “Don’t be ridiculous, honey, I’m already dead.”  Perfect. Even in spirit you can piss me off faster than the nanosecond it takes me to blink.

I shout through the window, “Did you just call me ri-di-cu-lous?” My words echo around the empty kitchen. I bang my cup down on the sill; put my hands on my hips and say, “Fine.”  Your laughter booms like thunder. I know you are not with me anymore just as sure as I’m looking at you up in that tree. And I know it is absurd to indulge myself with an argument in a parallel universe, but most of all… I know I cannot bear to lose you again.

I start to shout for help from someone in the house – there are many of your brothers here now healing from war – but before I can make a sound, you appear on the ground under the window safe and strong and I hear you say, “Come here.”

Damn you, I cannot stay mad. I run through the kitchen, down the porch steps, into the mud barefoot and stop. Somewhere between reality and wherever here is I am certain that if you touch me I will die. Then the thought crawls into my brain that if you don’t touch me, I will die.  I stand perfectly still trying to name the thing that scares me. Ironically, it is not death.

You say, “Dance with me, funny girl.”  I cannot seem to move. We are so close I smell pine and salty sap and the memory of you and I begin to weep – three years’ worth of tears. This new divine patience you have is unnerving. In life, my tears made you restless and you had to save something immediately – the World, the children, me. Here, you are reverent and calm; an observer of this pain from a three year old wound as it leaks down my face. We both know this needs to heal completely now. But if I move too quickly, if I allow this to be real, the wound may reopen and I might forget my purpose and spend my days just here between Heaven and Earth where nobody can get to me and nobody can hurt me and nothing can make me cry. When you wrap me in those arms the pain crystallizes into one single thought: Oh my God where have you been?

You say, “Just here,” and move me slowly in the pouring rain to a song I cannot hear.

I want to tell you how hard death is, but that’s not really true, is it? It is not death the living wake up to everyday, but life. There is no celestial tenet that grants us immunity from the details just because you and your brothers slipped behind the veil of Heaven. Sap will still drip on trucks, the shower head breaks; the war on terror goes on.

But there are no words large enough.

I still have days when I think this is all too damn hard. The only true thing I know is that the part of me you left here, with your abundance of faith and my sliver of hope, still believes love can heal. We both know what love can do.

And the single thing it cannot do.

Without words I tell you every last detail about life since you left. When I am done and my mind is empty of all thoughts, you sigh deeply and say, “I know.”  I think you listen better this way. Really I do. It tickles me, this soft place where I do not have to explain myself, where my magic is safe, where for just this moment I do not have to be fighting strong.

My strength is not the same without you. I’ve forgotten when to lean and how to ask.

You say, “Do you remember this?” and I nod my head against you and let the memory of dancing in secret places float through my brain. We both remember different parts and I don’t know why I hear your thoughts or why you hear mine, but it reminds me of that day we said everything with our eyes, so I let it be. The rain pours down and the mud seeps between my toes and you hold me at arm’s length for this long and lovely moment and say, “Listen to me now. Lean into the hard babe, I’m proud of you.”

When I wake up my pillow is wet from rain, or maybe tears – I don’t know which – and I don’t care because what I really want is to be back in that space between Heaven and Earth.  I climb off the bed and enter the morning slowly walking from room to room with the sensation of stray wisps of one universe seeping through the open windows of another.

I make a coffee, ponder the mud on the hem of my nightgown and my pretty pink toes and turn the radio on. I miss your arms… and just as the thought comes, these lyrics fill the room: “We’re not broken, just bent… and we can learn to love again…”  You are choreographing my morning with this new beloved song, so recently shared by a friend.  The words remind me of you; poignant and beautiful. I hope it’s true for those of us left behind.

I am standing at my office window with the song pulling at my heart, coffee in one hand, keys in the other, when I hear the first crack, then another, and a large pine tree limb crashes to the ground just inches from the truck bumper. Your tenacity is limitless. I laugh so hard and for so long the tears come again.  pine-limb-redu

This time though, my spirit is full, my strength is renewed and this gift of your prophecy fills me with all the love I need to one day soon run a plantation house where I can help your living brothers heal.

Wait for me. I’ll meet you there on a rainy day… and we’ll dance in the mud.

Lynnette Bukowski © 2013

My most sincere thanks to my “rascal” friend for sharing this… my new favorite song. Apparently they listen to “Pink” in Heaven too.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OpQFFLBMEPI

Neptune’s Child ~ Thoughts on Life

In honor of the Month of the Military Child, I present an essay written for a Reader’s Digest Contest in 1991 by our daughter, Sheri Lynn. Children were asked to address their feelings about family values, thoughts on life, what their mom and dad did at work and what they wanted to be when they were grown. Sheri did not win the contest, but she certainly melted our hearts. Steve carried a copy of this with him wherever he went. I found it yellowed and creased in his wallet when his personal items were returned to me the day after he died.  Love Dad

About my Bukowski Family 

By Sheri Lynn Bukowski – Age 7

My mommy can do almost everything except throw a mouse away when it’s on a sticky thing and except when daddy’s home, because then she pretends she can’t do everything so he can.  My daddy knows this secret.

My mommy and daddy probably know as much as God does, but mommy says they don’t because they’re just a mom and dad and we all, even mommies, learn something new every day. Also, we’re not supposed to put people on pedestals because we are all equal.  I don’t know about that because I don’t think anybody is equal to my daddy.  Mommy says pedestals are “thinking” things, and we should all try to be nice and say we’re sorry when we’re not nice. I suppose it’s like when she goes crazy and yells at everybody, even the dogs, and then says, “I don’t know what I was thinking.”

I think a pedestal is a wooden box.  I think it must hurt really bad to fall off so I will never put myself on a pedestal.  My brother says mommy and daddy don’t know anything about nothing.  He’s 10.  I think he should fall off a pedestal.

My mommy tells us we should talk to and listen to people every day if we can because every person and every day is important.  Mommy says this includes my three year old foster brother, even if he is a pain.

My daddy always says, “Never give up!”  And my mommy always says, “How do you know if you don’t try?”  Sometimes I really, really hate my parents because they make me do stupid things like wash my face and wear dresses.  Daddy says it’s okay because he will always love me anyway.  Mommy says it’s not nice to hate but I can not like her if I want.  I hate Philip, the boy who sits next to me at school, but I’m trying not to like him.

My daddy works in the Navy SEAL Team and does things that only special daddies like him can do.  He knows how to jump out of airplanes and shoot loud guns and dive under ships and crab-crawl through jungles and climb rock walls.  When he’s home we crab-crawl through the back yard and climb rocks and jump on the trampoline and he lets me wear green makeup on my cheeks, but mostly he’s gone and he writes us letters.

I think you have to know how to be lonely for your family and to write letters to be a Navy SEAL.  I love my daddy more because I think he needs it.

My mommy used to work at a place writing things for attorneys because attorneys don’t know how to write like she does. We had a nanny from Denmark named Hella, like hello except with an A.  Now mommy stays at home and gets her story money from the mailbox.  She works as a mommy for free because she loves us and because she takes care of us and sick babies and helps mommies and daddies of foster children to know how to love when they have sad hearts or angry feelings.  Mommy says she has enough love and I believe her, so it’s okay that I love daddy a little more since he’s alone a lot.

When I grow up I will probably be a Navy SEAL and a dancer.  I will try to be a nice person and watch out for pedestals.  I will also probably be a gymnastics girl in the Olympics because I’m pretty good so far.

If I win, will you please send this to my daddy.  Mommy knows the address.

Our Family

Sheri Lynn Bukowski © 1991

The Power of Sharing Strength…

helping(Sharing Strength was posted on August 6, 2012. I have revised the original in light of recent events because… much of it bears repeating)  

Iron sharpens iron. As one man sharpens another.  (Prov. 27:17)

 This is the miracle of human connection: we do not need to be in the same room, the same state, or the same country to reach out our hands and lay bare our hearts and say, I stand with you stunned – in silence and prayer, I will hold your hand, I will share your tears, I will take the impact of your pain as my own and bear it with you. We are all one. I feel your pain because you too are my brother, my child, my beloved. And I will stand with you – the left behind, the living – and share my strength.

Today, a dear friend, Rob Dubois, Author of Powerful Peace: A Navy SEAL’s Lessons on Peace from a Lifetime of War told me a story about a young girl who felt lost and hopeless and left her life up to one last event. Rob spoke from his heart with far more detail than I share here, but these words as I remember them bruised my soul: She wrote a long note to her parents, and the last sentence said: “I’m going to the mall. If one person smiles at me I will not kill myself.” Not one person smiled at her. Not one.

I came home to read an article shared by a friend on Twitter. Matthew Hoh wrote in The Huffington Post that a study released by the Department of Veterans affairs in early February, states that Veteran suicides have now reached twenty two (22) per day. Nearly one soul per hour every single day! Mr. Hoh writes, [Our recent] “…wars did not kill 6,500 Americans, but rather 13,000 or 20,000…”

It is so easy to turn away from this and say, with compassion, we just cannot save them all. We have lives to lead, places to go, things to do. But in my heart I hear this truth: What if a gentle touch of our hand, or our willingness to stay and not turn away from their pain, or the moment it takes to pick up a phone, send a text or a Tweet or a Facebook message was the exact moment that changed a life?

What if we passed a broken soul and shared a smile…

Because there is true comfort in knowing we are never really alone.

It is a poignant reminder of the first time in my adult life I learned this lesson.

On September 25, 1978 I began my drive to work from Coronado to San Diego.  Half-way across the Coronado Bay Bridge, a perfect 230 feet above water, sun glanced off my windshield and created a tunnel-like view of a small plane as it clipped the underside of a passenger jet and dropped from the sky.  I slammed my foot on the breaks and stepped out. As cars on the bridge screeched to a stop behind me, I stood and watched with horror as the jet banked away, paused, and began a nose down dive.  The sky shrieked wildly until it didn’t.  For one brief moment I imagined the plane was landing, until it hit the earth and exploded into a pluming black cloud.  Movement around me slowed to half speed, then quarter speed, as if the air in the blue sky had thickened with sorrow.

Those of us watching from the bridge began to scream; the sound inhuman, swallowed whole by the eerie howl of a sudden hot wind.  The heat roiled in my stomach and I bent over where I stood and vomited.  A man, a complete stranger, came to me and held my head, smoothed my hair back.  He made kind sounds, non-words that echoed through the blood buzzing in my ears.

I don’t remember the drive to the crash site.  I do remember following my stranger’s silver Mercedes as though it was a lifeline, a reality I needed to stay with.  We parked blocks away, but we felt the heat, even then, as he took my hand.  We ran, or he did.  I stumbled beside him, keeping pace with the sirens, praying, passing stunned people who staggered into the streets.  A wall of heat and smoke stopped us and we stood, useless.

My stranger fell to his knees then, pulling me down with him, crushing my hand to his chest while he wept; long crawling gasping sounds.  We huddled there in the street on our knees, and between sobs he told me that he’d been running late, on his way to the airport to pick up his daughter.  She was 25, working in LA and coming for a visit.  Surely, she’d forgive him for leaving her stranded.  He whispered the last words and I put my face close to his, looked into his eyes and took the full impact of his words.

I felt then like elderly people must feel when they forget who they are, where they are, what shoes are for, when each gesture calls meaning into question, unbuttoning a button, breathing.  I was 20, a mere child, but I forced myself to understand we were taking turns, as people do, in sharing strength.

I learned later that the 727 was carrying more than six tons of fuel, much of it in the wing tanks.  The news reported that from the moment of impact with the Cessna, it took just 17 seconds to transform PSA Flight 182 from a fully functional airliner into a mass of burning wreckage encompassing four city blocks.  The crash destroyed 22 houses in North Park, and killed 7 residents, as well as all 144 people on board the jet and both pilots in the Cessna.

Jeff told me later that he knew his daughter was on the plane the moment he witnessed the impact, but that tending to me and having me with him gave him the strength he needed to “keep the fist out of his gut long enough to know, without a doubt, that he could not save her.”

Jeff and I remained friends from that day on. He was finally able to go home to his daughter in September, 2002.

“Nothing is so strong as gentleness. Nothing is so gentle as true strength.” ~Sales

Share a smile today, reach from your soul and touch a life.

There is tenderness in the presence of true strength; it fairly grips the soul and stays long after the moments fade, years I think. Perhaps even a lifetime.

The Veterans Crisis Line is 1-800-273-8255. Please call if you or a loved one needs help.

Lynnette Bukowski © 2013

Warriors of the Heart

Steve &  Aaron
Steve & Aaron

“The Warrior knows that he is free to choose his desires, and he makes these decisions with courage, detachment, and – sometimes – with just a touch of madness.” ~Coelho

We all have to rise to our destiny, embrace miracles and accept Grace. I am absolutely sure of this now.  Not so much twenty-two years ago. Back then, I was still trying to “steer the river,” hell bent on forcing life to gather round and listen up. I was in charge. Twelve years into a marriage with my handsome Warrior, raising children on my own for most of each year and hell bent on saving the world, miracles and Grace had to damn well wait until I put them on the schedule. I never knew what was on the other side of the proverbial door, so I kept it locked. Pretending I had it all under control was survival.

Still, Grace sneaks in under doors we were told as children not to go through.

This is the story of Aaron.

On January 8, 1991, I picked up a one day old infant from the hospital and brought him home as our sixth foster baby in as many months. At 4 pounds, 9 ounces, he was a tiny soul without a name. His skin was sallow; he had no muscle tone, could not eat and would not sleep. At just over a week old, he died three times in an ambulance on the way to the hospital. I watched his little eyes open to find me each time he was revived and I knew, right then, I was in way over my head.

Truthfully, there was nothing noble about our decision to become a foster family. Rather, it was the only reasonable and legal conclusion to a series of events I set in motion in 1989 with nothing more than an abundance of love and irrational passion. After two solid weeks of news reports citing teen girls giving birth and throwing their live infants in dumpsters or remote parks, I placed an ad in the local paper with our address and these words: Unwanted infants can be dropped on my doorstep, no questions asked. Ring the bell and leave. The police called first, then Social Services, then Steve’s Command, and then… well, Steve, and all hell broke loose. No money, no time, kids of our own, my full-time writing gig, and the little fact that he was gone most of each year were all excellent points. So I compromised with the law and Steve by cancelling the ad. Six months later we were certified as therapeutic foster parents.

I do believe Steve felt the full impact of my unorthodox ways on that glorious morning in mid-January when he walked through the door to find our two homemade children, two toddlers he had never met in person and a very sick, addicted Baby Boy strapped to my chest in a sling.

Even under normal conditions, the rhythm of reentry after deployment or missions is an uneasy dance. It occurred to me, not for the first time, that this unusual welcoming committee might just be the equivalent of shock treatment. I held my breath, and for a moment – in slow motion – I let my mind wander through memories of prior homecomings. True, we fancied ourselves madly in love so coming home to me was always the safe haven. Physically he was home, but after the initial welcome and the soft place to land, I had to clog and slog and pull my way through a thick dark muddy abyss with just a glimmer of hope that some semblance of the mental and emotional Steve might come home too.

When shouts of “Daddy’s home!” and twirling hugs took over the room like a long, clear blast of cool air, I exhaled long and slow. It was a sight to behold ~~ this wonderful, weeping man who once again exhausted all of us with his playfulness and fierce love.

And as for the nameless Baby Boy attached to his wife, well, it was love at first sight.

I thanked God right then and there for a man who knew my wild and stubborn ways and loved me anyway.

Steve stepped into home life again as though he’d never missed a day. By that afternoon, he and our older kids had named the baby Aaron Timothy (after Team Brothers, of course), our two foster toddlers had attached themselves to his legs and for the weeks and months that followed, we were both “on” 24 hours a day. Aaron had to be fed with a dropper sized bottle every hour, attached to a heart and apnea monitor at all times and rushed to the hospital every few weeks. We also teamed up against doctors who told us in no uncertain terms that Aaron could not thrive and would not live.

Steve would have none of that business. Right away, he took it on as his personal mission to design a tiny personal training routine wherein he would lay Aaron on his lap and move his little arms, legs and torso several times a day to help build normal muscle tone. He designed a crib setup with a sling so Aaron could sleep at a steep incline to help with apnea, and made a head support out of riggers tape on a door-jam jumpy swing to support Aaron’s head. Then he painstakingly held Aaron steady in the swing, with monitor attached, to simulate a “jump” and “push” to build little thighs. The very first time Aaron pushed off the floor under his own strength, two of Steve’s teammates were at the house and the roars of celebration nearly brought the roof down and caused all of us to burst into tears. You haven’t lived until you’ve experienced a wild, exuberant moment of three giants, one woman and a bunch of kids weeping with joy.Steve and Aaron1

At 5 months, Aaron weighed eleven pounds, could hold his head steady and push our hands away with his legs. Undeniable miracles to us, but doctors were not impressed. In unison they shook their heads, looked at each other, and scientifically presented their prognosis: “Don’t get too attached,” one said, “multiple congenital heart defects,” another said, “lungs malformed,” one said. Almost in unison they said, “You need to be prepared.”

If my hands were not already occupied holding Aaron I might have put them over my ears, closed my eyes and babbled nonsense over their words. Instead, I looked all three doctors straight in the eye and said, “Not one of you is God! And if I ever hear of any of you telling another parent their child is going to die, I will…” which is when my throat tightened, so I stomped my foot and burst into tears.

A rapid string of nervous sound came at us from all three doctors about keeping Aaron at the hospital, calling social services, addicted babies, syndrome babies, nothing medically to be done, these things happen. They were truly good men with huge hearts who felt helpless, but they could not see past their medical training to notice the very hand of God. I do not usually lose my bearing, but I was so overwhelmed my tears turned to heavy sobs. Steve stood, looked at me, looked at the doctors, and said, “Aaron is not going anywhere but home with us. We’ve got this. Thanks.” What he actually said contained a few more expletives, not so much directed at the doctors, but to the situation, and we all understood the meeting was adjourned. The doctors blushed, I managed a grin, and we left.

On the drive home my “what-iffing” began while Aaron contentedly cooed. My stubbornness had placed us in this moment. I wasn’t sorry. But I did know with every fiber of my being that our family life had turned into a constant stream of emotions wrapped around children and it was all painful in some way. Joy, sorrow, love, and fear became so exaggerated, so deep and sharp that we were left raw and yes, in pain. I don’t think the human heart is designed to beat outside the body, but once you have children, by any means, that’s exactly where a parent’s heart is — beating forever on the outside and continuously exposed. I said all of that and more, aloud, while Steve remained eerily silent and Aaron’s cooing enveloped us like a song sent to smooth and comfort.

That evening I arranged for a nursing team of babysitters and a much needed date night. We spent the evening at a Team party and in adult conversations that did not include diapers or homework or doctors. I should probably note here that we did not have civilian friendships with other married couples. We had Teammates because Steve’s “brothers” were the only people he could talk to who understood him without censure.

It worked wonders, or so I thought.

Anyone who knew Steve knows he did not whisper – ever – which is why I had to lean as far right as I could with both hands on the steering wheel and say, “I can’t hear you. Are you sick?”  He answers, but the sound is breathless and I do not actually hear words. When we pass under a street light I glance at his chiseled profile and watch one tear drip through his mustache and onto his lap where he holds his hands, palms down on his thighs.  He stares straight ahead, shoulders back, chin up and my heart starts to race. I look up just in time to avoid hitting the curb.

“Pull over,” he roars; his normal voice.

I turn into the first driveway I see, put the car in park and turn off the lights.  It does not escape my attention that at 1:00 in the morning I’ve pulled into an Izuzu dealership. We are invisible, a silver Trooper idling among a sea of silver Troopers. I get a sudden urge to soften the air around us, ease whatever hurts him. A nervous giggle bubbles up and out and I say, “Okay, there’s no need to cry. Right here, right now, while we’re hiding in plain sight.”

“Jesus,” he says. The slightest grin sparkles in his eyes when he takes my hand in both of his and places it firmly against his chest. Then he looks straight into me and says, “I was praying. And it’s a big deal so pay attention. Are you paying attention?”

I nod. I can’t speak because the air around us is heavy and I’m scared to death.

“We’re adopting him. Aaron. He’s as much a part of us as those two we made. You good with that?”

I nod. Relieved, frightened, exhausted. But I sense there’s more.

“At the hospital, while the docs were babbling and you were crying, I prayed. And I’m praying now. If He takes all of my strength so that Aaron can live, it’s fine. I made the deal and I expect He’ll take me up on it.”

I’m stunned. Making a deal with God is serious business if you believe in such things. Steve did. Uncomplicated and exact, as in every other area of his life, Steve held firm to a belief that a man had to be true to his word, especially to God. He did not believe God responsible for the all the bad in the world; rather, man was accountable for bad choices and ego driven atrocities and weak men in the end blamed all the crap on God.

Steve never blamed anything on God. I don’t think I understood the depth of his faith until that very moment.

“I don’t think it works like that, Steve. Aaron will live or he won’t, but God is about love. I don’t think it’s a this-or-that kind of deal.”

He says, “This is about love. So I call it a deal. Either way, it’s about love. Just tell me you’ve got it. You need to tell me you’ve got this… no matter what happens to me. He’s ours now. ”

I say, “I’ve got this.” And I did.

Our date nights were never boring.

Aaron is now a 6’4” handsome young man. He turns 26 this January 7, 2017. Fairly famous, he is one of 400 people in the entire world still alive with a complete absence of pericardium, multiple heart malformations, pulmonary fibrosis, Marfans Syndrome, Asperger’s spectrum and myriad other issues he deals with daily with a presence that lifts joy.

He truly is our miracle who ignites souls and shows us where love lives.

Never doubt that we all walk among angels ~~ be it Warriors or Tender Souls.

Watch for miracles. Accept Grace.

Lynnette Bukowski © 2016. All rights reserved.

The Color of Courage

Excerpt from Love is Born in Giant Fields of Crazy: Lessons in Love

“Our faith itself is a potent force. When faith in love and its miraculous authority becomes a thought form that guides our thinking, it turns into an extraordinary power that transforms our lives.” ~Marianne Williamson

This is what it feels like to waREDtch someone I love fall out of the sky:  I tilt my head back, shield my eyes from sun glow, and watch tiny specks drop from a plane so high, I cannot actually see it in the cerulean blue sky.  I only hear a distant drone.  Big Red, our 120 pound Golden Retriever, begins to pace around my legs in a tight circle.  The behavior is so unusual for this markedly obedient dog that I sense something’s off, but I keep my eyes skyward, fascinated now by a long, colorful cloth spiraling up from one of the floating dots. The silk flaps around like a rag doll, whips at the sky, but does not catch the wind.  Red stops pacing and emits a long, fretful sound somewhere between a moan and a bark. The Platoon Chief beside me angles his binoculars just so and shouts “Buk!” my husband’s nickname.

My throat closes, my breath stops and the chatter around me turns heavy and distorted.  I lock my knees because standing seems impossible and blessedly, Red is solid against my left side.  I lean into him.  The spiraling cloth crumbles away and it is agonizing moments before a small chute mushrooms out, catches the wind and snaps dangling legs to attention.  Still, Steve is dropping far too fast. I do not even have time to make an entire “deal” with God before Red bolts from my side and runs flat out toward the drop zone.  This is against all rules and some small part of my brain thinks of calling him back, but I don’t.  Instead, I watch, as if in slow motion, Red skids sideways into two black boots a microsecond before they hit ground.  Legs fold like a dance movement and two bodies (large dog and man) drop into a long controlled roll, tumbling over and over before they both pop upright, tangled in line and parachute. I glimpse Steve hunched over, hands on his knees with Red beside him, panting.  The men around me cheer, curse, run.  I drop to my knees, then to all fours as the air leaves my lungs and the world turns black.

This is where they find me.  I half-wake to a mixture of dust and dog breath.  Red laps his long wet tongue up the middle of my face.  From a distance I hear, “Happy Anniversary, honey.”  Both Steve and Red are smiling (I’m sure) as though this impromptu anniversary gift, indeed, the world tilting on its edge, is hysterical.

That was my third anniversary gift and now – 31 years later and after living through his death – I’m sure Big Red saved my husband’s life that day.  Of course, the law of physics might not support my certainty, but believe me, it was just the beginning of this courageous dog’s gift.

We adopted Big Red shortly after our first son was born.  Every kid needs a dog and we fell in love with his sparkling brown eyes and deep red coat of fur.  We were told Red was bred to win top prizes in dog shows. But his head was too big according to some ridiculous rule, and at just over a year old, he was dumped with a Retriever Rescue Group.  None of us – the rescue group – or our naïve young family – realized the extent of Red’s training until years later, but looking back, it was glaringly obvious.

From the first night in our home, Red adopted our baby son.  He politely watched me place his new dog bed in a corner of the kitchen and after a quick drink, curled up and lay down.  He watched as we ate dinner, during baby bath-time and story reading, but as we tucked our little one into his crib, Red left the room and returned dragging his dog bed by his mouth.  He carefully placed it at the end of the crib and Red’s bed (or new versions of it) remained in that spot through 16 babies (two homemade, 1 adopted and 13 foster babies) and seven different homes across the country.  On his own, Red taught each of our children how to walk him before they were big enough to see over his back.  No kidding, he would retrieve his leash from a basket and heal to their little steps around the back yard.

With an uncanny sense, Red always knew to be gentle with children and outright frightening to unwelcome strangers.  Often, when Steve was deployed, I would watch Red’s reaction before opening the front door to someone unknown.  He was right one hundred percent of the time.

On one occasion, I was distracted and opened the door to our new foster daughter’s boyfriend. Before I had a chance to say hello, Red sped past me, jumped at the boy and had his jaw locked around the young man’s right arm, then twisted until the kid fell to his knees, screaming.  I froze in horror for a brief moment – until I saw the weapon – and then, with far more bravado then I felt, I lifted the gun out of his useless hand and called the police. Terrified, he admitted that our foster daughter had stolen his “black book”, thinking it was a list of girls. It was really a list of his drug deal connections. Red held the boy down the entire time, and released only when the police arrived.

But the most memorable save happened during Red’s last year of life.  Our youngest son was only an infant and barely two month’s old – attached 24 hours a day to a heart and apnea monitor, which alerted with loud beeps when his heart or breathing stopped.  Most of the time, the alerts would require only minimal stimulation for Aaron to respond and the family (including Red) was well used to the sound.  In 1991, Red suffered from arthritis and was partially blind, so he stayed on his bed a good portion of each day.  That particular morning, during nap time, I decided to vacuum and was nearly done with the upstairs when Red ran from the bedroom and grabbed my hand with his jaw. He growled and whined and pulled and the instant I turned off the vacuum I heard the alarm of Aaron’s monitor.  Aaron was nearly blue. I administered CPR and simultaneously phoned for help.  Red stayed by my side the entire time.  Aaron is now a 21 year old, 6’3” handsome young man.  Red passed away 11 months later, one week after Aaron was well enough to be without his heart and Apnea monitor. I think he planned it that way.

Steve and Aaron1
Home from Deployment ~ Aaron and Steve

Never underestimate the power of faith or the lessons Grace brings through experience in life. Even that which hurts the most.

I know this much is true: Steve, along with his Brothers ~~ Warrior Angels all ~~ are busy holding babies now and Big Red is keeping an eye on all.  They will live on in me and with me forever. Such Grace.

By Lynnette Bukowski
© 2012

“White Hot” Rainy Morning Letters #720

Excerpt from Married to the SEAL Teams: Lessons in Love

When I least expect it the missing burns white hot just under my skin anLake Arrowhead snow 2d I fold myself in half, wrap my arms around my knees and wait for it like I’m a kid on a toboggan racing down an icy hill with fat trees in my path. Time slows into long, long moments when I know I’m going to get hurt, and badly.  And I do. But I steer into it now because the impact kindles my strength.

Like I’m Firewalking again, I feel your presence. In spirit, you watch and wait until I stand up and move on and I hear, “Hooyah, Babe!” when I need it most of all.

Silence does have a sound.

And there is no statute of limitations on missing.

I still want to curl into a ball and wail loudly and for so long that God gives in and gives up and gives you back and we can do our forever again. Instead, I took our forever as my own and wrapped its precious fragility with memories and scars. And now we know it was never safely bound by hope or adventures or things.

I give things away now – two at a time – because it is not my place to convince others they don’t need things.

sperlonga italy 3Things are ephemeral. Like me on the side of the cliff in Sperlonga with you on billet. Half way up I lose my strength, then my grip. I scream, “I need something!”  And you laugh. Laugh! Sure of yourself, sure of me. You roar, “You don’t need one damn thing but me, baby. Suck it up. Climb!”  And I do.  Sobbing and spent I stand on the top of that cliff with bloody hands and legs and shout, “You’re supposed to save me, you ass!”

You say, “I just did.”

True enough.

These tiny scars are white hot tokens of my strength.

The children carry their own scars. One returned to balancing himself in the ocean, in currents strong with peace. One remains strong in faith, has no fear and lives without a net.  And our youngest wears his strength softly cloaked in a soul so tender I’m reminded where love lives.

They circle me carefully now because I am alone in this forest, wild and fierce.

And I am stronger than I have ever been.

To remind me of this I keep my missing in a box under our bed packed with memories that fill me up. The things of our forever may never be the same, but the rough edges of my grief have been smoothed away into missing.

Still, your spirit softens and delights me like the memory of waking up from afternoon naps to find your hand on my heart. I say, “What?” and you smile that smile and say, “I was missing you.”

White hot love.

In a box now… to remind me that if we had our forever again

I would still hold the map upside down and prove to be the worst navigator in history.  This would piss you off in no small way, but I’d make you laugh until you cried at the abundance of life when we find ourselves on a goat trail in France.

 

And I would still throw the level down and dance through the pasture to All Summer Long while you toiled over a horse fence. Sure, you’d yell. But your heart would smile until your arms reached out. Then, I’d make you dance with me because… really, honey, level is all in perspective.

And I would still love just to fight and fight just to love like the very first time was the very last time every single time.

I do not know the exact moment our forever became my missing, but as it turns out, missing is not a thing to be put away or given up or ignored.

Missing is an ember hell bent on igniting a white hot strength for life.

Hooyah, Babe!Lake Arrowhead snow

Lynnette Bukowski, All rights reserved June 2012 ©

Stand Up For Our Troops and Our Veterans

I am a woman of great strength and great love. I have been given divine gifts of words, keen discernment and an intuitive force I use to empower and inspire others to take their own gifts and use them for the good of all. I believe in human connection, basic human goodness, common decency, common sense and “applied” peace. If I am naïve at all in this second half of my life, it is in my continued faith in truth and justice.

And I am fiercely loyal to a Brotherhood to (and with) whom the other half of my soul dedicated his entire life.

It is now appallingly obvious that the current administration and their media cohorts have launched an assault on these Warriors for political gain. I urge all of you who want to return to a place of common sense in this world to stand behind our Troops and our Veterans. They serve and suffer even as the assault continues. So – peacefully – do what you can with what you have where you are.

As for me, hell hath no fury like a pissed off SEAL’s widow.

“I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers.” MV

Sharing Strength

 Iron sharpens iron. As one man sharpens another.  (Prov. 27:17)

This is the miracle of human connection: we do not need to be in the same room, the same state, or the same country to reach out our hands and lay bare our hearts and say, I stand with you stunned – in silence and prayer, I will hold your hand, I will share your tears, I will take the impact of your pain as my own and bear it with you. We are all one. I feel this loss because this too is my brother, my child, my beloved. And I will stand with you – the left behind, the living – and share my strength.

Two years ago (tomorrow) the world lost 30 brave men and Bart, a Warrior Dog – all heroes – aboard Extortion 17 in Afghanistan. The families, friends and loved ones of the fallen are scattered across the country and globe and while it is impossible to reach each of them in person or by phone, for the past week entire communities came together to raise funds, show support and share in the grief of loss.

Today, hundreds of people – many who do not even know these men and their families – join virtual hands in support and prayer via Facebook and Twitter to uplift and share strength.

There is such comfort in knowing we are never really alone.

It is a poignant reminder of the first time in my adult life I learned this lesson.

On September 25, 1978 I began my drive to work from Coronado to San Diego.  Half-way across the Coronado Bay Bridge, a perfect 230 feet above water, sun glanced off my windshield and created a tunnel-like view of a small plane as it clipped the underside of a passenger jet and dropped from the sky.  I slammed my foot on the breaks and stepped out. As cars on the bridge screeched to a stop behind me, I stood and watched with horror as the jet banked away, paused, and began a nose down dive.  The sky shrieked wildly until it didn’t.  For one brief moment I imagined the plane was landing, until it hit the earth and exploded into a pluming black cloud.  Movement around me slowed to half speed, then quarter speed, as if the air in the blue sky had thickened with sorrow.

Those of us watching from the bridge began to scream; the sound inhuman, swallowed whole by the eerie howl of a sudden hot wind.  The heat roiled in my stomach and I bent over where I stood and vomited.  A man, a complete stranger, came to me and held my head, smoothed my hair back.  He made kind sounds, non-words that echoed through the blood buzzing in my ears.

I don’t remember the drive to the crash site.  I do remember following my stranger’s silver Mercedes as though it was a lifeline, a reality I needed to stay with.  We parked blocks away, but we felt the heat, even then, as he took my hand.  We ran, or he did.  I stumbled beside him, keeping pace with the sirens, praying, passing stunned people who staggered into the streets.  A wall of heat and smoke stopped us and we stood, useless.

My stranger fell to his knees then, pulling me down with him, crushing my hand to his chest while he wept; long crawling gasping sounds.  We huddled there in the street on our knees, and between sobs he told me that he’d been running late, on his way to the airport to pick up his daughter.  She was 25, working in LA and coming for a visit.  Surely, she’d forgive him for leaving her stranded.  He whispered the last words and I put my face close to his, looked into his eyes and took the full impact of his words.

I felt then like elderly people must feel when they forget who they are, where they are, what shoes are for, when each gesture calls meaning into question, unbuttoning a button, breathing.  I was 20, a mere child, but I forced myself to understand we were taking turns, as people do, in sharing strength.

I learned later that the 727 was carrying more than six tons of fuel, much of it in the wing tanks.  The news reported that from the moment of impact with the Cessna, it took just 17 seconds to transform PSA Flight 182 from a fully functional airliner into a mass of burning wreckage encompassing four city blocks.  The crash destroyed 22 houses in North Park, and killed 7 residents, as well as all 144 people on board the jet and both pilots in the Cessna.

Jeff told me later that he knew his daughter was on the plane the moment he witnessed the impact, but that tending to me and having me with him gave him the strength he needed to “keep the fist out of his gut long enough to know, without a doubt, that he couldn’t save her.”

Jeff and I remained friends from that day on. He was finally able to go home to his daughter in September, 2002.

“Nothing is so strong as gentleness. Nothing is so gentle as true strength.” ~Sales

Aboard Extortion 17 that day were 17 of my husband’s brothers – U.S. Navy SEALs. It is this brotherhood of men and their families who sustain me today as the widow of a veteran Navy SEAL. And I know without a doubt that on August 6, 2011, my husband Steve welcomed all 30 – and Bart – into a brotherhood that lives on in Heaven as a Platoon of Warrior Angels. Such Grace.

There is tenderness in the presence of true strength; it fairly grips the soul and stays long after the moments fade, years I think. Perhaps even a lifetime.

Lynnette Bukowski ©2012

Lynnette Bukowski is a freelance author and artist and the Founder/Director of LZ-Grace (Landing Zone Grace) Veterans Retreat. (www.lz-grace.com)